National Review’s Robert Costa gets this from Texas demagogue Sen. Ted Cruz:
“I’m convinced there is a new paradigm in politics — the rise of the grassroots,” Cruz says. He cites Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster on drone policy, and the debates on Syria and gun control, as recent examples of how an “overwhelming” number of phone calls and e-mails from constituents can force the president to buckle.
What I like about this isn’t so much that this is what politicians have been saying for decades, or that it’s fun to have a United States senator who just went on a national tour with the Washington-based Heritage Action group talking about grass roots. No, what I like is how wildly unhelpful the examples are.
The best case he has is Syria. It’s certainly possible that public opinion, and even direct constituent action, was part of what turned Congress against authorizing strikes and, subsequently (perhaps), President Obama’s decision to cut a deal rather than launch missiles. But none of the links there are all that clear, and grass roots, to me, implies political action, not just passive public opinion.
The other two? Obama didn’t “buckle” on guns; Cruz’s side simply had the votes. Grass roots had nothing to do with it — if anything, the outcome on guns showed that members of Congress — in this case, Republicans and pro-gun Democrats — were able to ignore a popular bill with grass-roots enthusiasm on its side.
And then there’s the drone filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). It’s a perfect example for Cruz to give: It was exactly as “grass roots” as he is, and as much of a victory as he’s likely to get on defunding Obamacare in the continuing resolution. That is: The filibuster was a Washington action by a U.S. senator — which happens to be about the least grass-roots thing imaginable. It accomplished, well, nothing in the way of tangible policy change. And to the extent it mattered at all, it was because it caused other elites to pay attention to an issue and raise its profile.
Of course, politicians say all sorts of silly things in claiming that they uniquely represent the will of the people, while all those other politicians (including, say, the one who won two presidential elections) are just out-of-touch Washington hacks. Usually, however, they can do a better job than Cruz does.