Opinion writer

Ted Cruz says that the Democratic debate showcased the Dem agenda in all its jackbooted, freedom-trampling, Euro-weenie-socialist-paradise-emulating glory:

“It was more socialism, more pacifism, more weakness and less Constitution,” he told about 100 people crammed into a motel lobby in Kalona, a small town in southeastern Iowa. “It was a recipe to destroy a country.”

“We’re seeing our freedoms taken away every day and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously. Last night was an audition for who would embrace government power for who would strip your and my individual liberties,” he said.

“Every one of the Democratic candidates is agreed on doubling down on the failed Obama strategies. So it was really quite interesting for America to see each and every Democratic candidate explain how they’re every bit as socialist as Bernie Sanders is,” he said.

Ed Kilgore says we need to take this seriously. Kilgore advises reading the above quotes along with a recent Cruz fundraising email, in which Cruz said that the Second Amendment is designed to protect the people’s right to “serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”

Kilgore says Cruz needs to be pressed on whether all this rhetoric adds up to a suggestion that Dem policies constitute the sort of jackbooted threat to liberty that justifies what Sharron Angle (remember her?) described as “Second Amendment remedies.” If so, Kilgore asks, which specific policies rise to this level of tyranny?

When a guy like Cruz starts tossing around words like “tyrant” and “jackboot” and “destroy the country” and “strip your and my individual liberties,” isn’t it possible, perhaps even likely, that at least a few of his supporters might think he’s signaling that the time is near to get out the shooting irons and start executing the Tyrant’s agents? I really think Cruz, Carson and Huckabee need to be asked very specifically on the campaign trail and in debates exactly which circumstances would justify the armed insurrection they defend, and make it clear that Obamacare or a potential repeal of the gunshow loophole or an executive action on immigration don’t qualify.

It’s not clear to me that Cruz actually believes in a Constitutionally protected right to armed overthrow of the U.S. government. But it would be fascinating to see Cruz, a Constitutional scholar who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, pressed on this question, or on what specific circumstances would be necessary to justify it.

Meanwhile, Kilgore’s dissection of Cruz’s rhetoric gives rise to another interesting question: Which of the policies on display on the debate stage do qualify for Cruz as jackbooted trampling on individual liberties and the Constitution?

Here’s a short list of some of the policies that Dems discussed: More progressive taxation. More spending on education, job creation, infrastructure and the safety net. More regulation of campaign donations. Mandated family and medical leave. Raising the minimum wage. A carbon tax and federal limits on carbon emissions. Breaking up the big banks (Bernie Sanders’ proposal), or, if not, regulating them more aggressively (Hillary Clinton’s proposal). A ban on “assault” weapons and the expansion of an already-existing federal background check system to cover private gun sales.

It’s true that the agenda articulated by Sanders in particular is quite ambitious, when taken all together. But the agenda championed by likely Democratic nominee Clinton is less ambitious, and if there was consensus up there on the stage, it mostly came together behind a fairly standard grab-bag of Democratic priorities. Many of them would seem to fall comfortably under Congress’ Constitutional authority to tax, spend for the general welfare, and regulate interstate commerce.

On campaign finance regulations, the Democratic candidates are calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, which might be deeply misguided and hopeless, but it’s hardly illegitimate. Obama’s new plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants, which all the Democratic candidates support, will face a court challenge, but it may be upheld as justifiable under an existing law passed by Congress, the Clean Air Act of 1970. Expanding background checks is controversial for Republicans, but when the Supreme Court upheld an individual right to bear arms in self defense, it explicitly specified that this doesn’t preclude regulating firearms. (The “assault” ban is a Democratic mainstay, but in my view, it’s questionable in policy terms.)

Cruz presumably views the level of taxation, the degree of progressivity in the tax code, and the extent of regulation imposed on private businesses as directly proportional to the amount of liberty that government is taking away from those impacted. But which of these policies does Cruz view as unconstitutional? We know he views Obama’s plan for regulating carbon emissions as unconstitutional, and he almost certainly thinks the same about expanding background checks. But as noted above, the contrary view on both of those is thoroughly within the mainstream. Cruz surely pines in a general sense for pre-New Deal conceptions of the Constitution. But while he questions more progressive taxation, increased spending on the safety net, mandated leave policies, and an increased minimum wage on substantive grounds, does he see any of them as unconstitutional?

I don’t mean these questions rhetorically. It would be genuinely interesting to know which of the policies that came from the Democratic stage last night amount in Cruz’s eyes to “less Constitution,” as he puts it. It would be even more interesting to know which ones, to Cruz, are equivalent to a jackboot stomping on the face of individual liberties.

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Editor’s note: If Cruz has already given public answers to some of the questions posed above, let me know, and I’ll update.