Breaking Bad

“Chemistry is the study of matter,” Breaking Bad’s Walt White says. “But I prefer to see it as the study of change.”

AMC cable series Breaking Bad, which ended its five-year run last night, tells the story of disaffected high school chemistry teacher Walter White who, after discovering he has inoperable lung cancer, decides to go into the drug business for the sake of his wife and family.

In one episode, Jesse Pinkman, a high school dropout enlisted in Walt’s business, asks about the status of another partner who had become “a problem.” Unknown to Jesse, Walt’s already taken care of the problem.

“What are we going to do about it!?” Jesse presses him.

“We? There is no WE, Jesse. I’m the only vote left. I’ll handle it.”

If he’s not already a fan, I’ll bet Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has seen enough episodes to adopt Walt’s win-at-any-cost approach – a change no one, including his own party, believes in.

Last week, Cruz stood on the floor of the Senate and talked for 21 hours against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the cost of shutting down the government.

Whether you’re for or against the Act is not the point. Against the advice of his own colleagues, Mr. Cruz decided to stand in defiance of what has already become law, and rather than work within the system, much less his own party, to help change or correct the law, he would rather stand… or rather, grandstand, his way into history books with, what has become, the fourth longest talk in Senate history.

In the first hour of his speech, Cruz – channeling Bad’s Walt White – likened his Senate colleagues to Nazi appeasers. “Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’ ”

Another Republican Senator, John McCain took offense. “That allegation, in my view, does a great disservice, a great disservice to those brave Americans and those who stood up and said, ‘what’s happening in Europe cannot stand.’ ”

Cruz says he’s standing on principle. Based on his actions, the only principle Mr. Cruz seems to live by is: what’s good for Ted Cruz is good for the country, whether the country likes it or not. Iin this case, according to the Gallup organization, only about 22 percent of the American public is in his corner. “Fewer Americans,” Gallup reports (Sept. 26), “now describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement than did at the height of the movement in 2010, or even at the start of 2012.”

So, why is Cruz siding against 78 percent of the American public? Because this isn’t about a principle, it’s all about getting the Cruz brand before the public.

Cruz’s stunt –there’s no other way to label it – would be a really bad joke if it didn’t come at a really bad time. Rather than rise to the level of a wise elder (what the Roman term Senate literally means), the freshman Senator from Texas would rather grandstand his way into the fears and anxieties of millions of Americans who already have a low opinion of Congress, than work with Republican colleagues on real legislation like, oh say, the deficit and budget.

Let’s be clear: there was nothing deliberative or principle-based in Cruz’s 21-hour screed in front of the nation last week. No wisdom, only cracker barrel talk.

“One of the self-described fact checkers – and we may talk long enough that I talk a little bit about fact checkers, because that is a particularly pernicious bit of yellow journalism that has cropped up that lets journalists be editorial writers…”

Really?

Politifact.com points out that “Cruz said that by dropping spousal health insurance for 15,000 employees, UPS left employees’ spouses ‘without health insurance’ and told them to, ‘go on an exchange with no employer subsidy.’ But Cruz ignores that the only spouses being kicked off the UPS plan would be the ones who already had access to an employer-sponsored plan in their own job. This means they wouldn’t be ‘without health insurance’ and wouldn’t have to find coverage on an Obamacare marketplace. We rate the claim False.”

On August 10, 2013 in a speech to the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Cruz said, “President Obama just granted all of Congress an exception” to Obamacare.

Politifact said “That sounds like lawmakers get to opt out of health care under the law. Quite the opposite – they’ll use new marketplaces alongside the uninsured and small businesses, just as it required. And it’s not even accurate to say they were excepted from some provision of the law: the law itself wasn’t clear. Instead, they got a clarification about the law’s effect on contributions toward their health insurance – which they will purchase on Obamacare’s marketplaces. We rate Cruz’s claim False.”

Of 21 Cruz statements checked by the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization, 4 were rated “True” or “Mostly True”; 4 were rated “Half-True”; 9 were rated “False” or “Mostly False”; and 4, almost 20 percent, were rated “Pants-on-Fire” false.

Ronald Reagan, a political hero of Cruz’s, once said, “Facts are stubborn things.” But the fact of the matter is Mr. Cruz has misled and deceived Americans about too many facts.

According to FactCheck.org, run by The Annenberg Public Policy Center, Cruz said that the “IRS employees union has asked to be exempted from Obamacare.”

“But the union hasn’t ‘asked to be exempted,’ ” FactCheck writes. I’ll let readers click on the link, and judge for themselves about the credibility of Mr. Cruz on many of his statements about the Affordable Care Act.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to understanding details of the ACA. The President and his administration have done a poor job in explaining exactly how all of this happens along with the impact on individuals and companies. Obamacare has been described by Democrats as the president’s “signature achievement.” More, much more, needs to be done in clearing away the confusion and illuminating the specifics of putting into practice a major piece of legislation.

Nonetheless, Mr. Cruz has decided – on his own – that he knows best. And his best is showboating for 21 hours about a law, which has yet to be implemented, through fear and anxiety.

After his speech, Cruz told reporters, “At this point, the debate is in the hands of the American people.”

Well, Senator, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll (Sept. 25) “Eight in 10 Americans find it unacceptable for either President Obama or members of Congress to threaten to shut down the government during budget negotiations in order to achieve their goals… Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Tea Party supporters alike object to the threat of a shutdown, the poll says.”

Even McCain said the republicans shouldn’t “give up our efforts to repair Obamacare.” But, he added it wasn’t worth shutting down the government.

We need a better brand of politician than Ted Cruz. We need a practical politician who demonstrates hope over fear and leadership over demagoguery.

In short, we need statesmanship, not stuntsmanship.

“President Reagan stood for conservative principles in a way that brought people together,” Cruz said of his political hero.

Listen closely, Mr. Cruz, that sound you hear is Ronald Reagan spinning in his grave.

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