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Cruz fails to explain how his favorite three-word phrase saves lives

Ted Cruz keeps complaining that President Obama won’t use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at the CNN Town Hall at Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Ben Brewer

I’m back from a nice break and plenty of blessings counting.

I watched the CNN Town Hall from Milwaukee Tuesday night featuring the three remaining candidates for the nomination of the Party of Lincoln.

There were a couple of shards of “news” that came out of the event. All three candidates refused to reaffirm a pledge, which they made at the first GOP debate, to support the eventual Republican nominee. And Donald Trump announced that he would not fire his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who has been charged with battery for laying hands on a female reporter.

Those developments are getting plenty of coverage, so instead I plan to focus on Ted Cruz’ performance. First, let me offer a quick confession: To my amazement, I thought Cruz came across as not only sincere but even likeable. His answers mostly tracked and made sense. Believe me, it almost hurts to write this paragraph.

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But notice I said his statements “mostly” tracked and made sense. Despite a greatly reduced level of smarminess, Cruz failed to answer a question I’ve wondered about for some time regarding one of his favorite talking points.

‘Radical Islamic terrorism’

It’s something Cruz has harped on during the entire campaign: the fact that President Obama “won’t even use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’” I’ve grown a little obsessed with this routine, which I’ve heard him perform dozens of times. I always want to say three things back to him about it.

Thing 1: Unless you, Sen. Cruz, think there are forms of terrorism that are moderate, calling a particular form of terrorism “radical” is redundant. If you are going to boil the meaning of life down to a three words, don’t use two that mean essentially the same thing.

Thing 2: You, senator, know perfectly well why Obama generally avoids the phrase you want him to adopt. He is concerned about alienating domestic and foreign Muslims who are not terrorists (whose help he believes the United States needs in fighting ISIS) by adopting a phrase that they might take as an insult to their religion, which they prefer to think of as a religion of peace that is perverted by violent apostates. You may disagree that this is necessary or helpful, but your effort to portray Obama’s preferred word choices as deranged or political correctness run amok are undermined by your unwillingness to acknowledge that Obama has a plausible and possibly helpful reason for his preferred usage. This makes your constant mockery of it seem insincere or unthinking.

Final thing, the really big one: Who cares? If, hoping to shut you up about it already, Obama decided to adopt your preferred (and redundant) three-word phrase, how exactly would it advance the cause of defeating ISIS/ISIL/Daesh?

Tuesday night Cruz proffered an answer to that last question, which sounded almost reasonable unless you think about it. It starts with a question from a member of the audience. The excerpt is lightly edited for flow and concision:

QUESTION: Both Paris and now Brussels have suffered blindside attacks by Islamic terrorists. Although I fear a terrorist attack on the United States, I have a greater fear of the government taking away my constitutional freedoms and privacy in the name of security. As president, how will you ensure that America is not blindly attacked, while also maintaining the privacy of the American people?

CRUZ: Well, Benjamin, thank you for that question, and it’s a very important question.

You know, there are some in politics who say it’s an either/or choice. We can either protect America or protect our civil liberties. I don’t accept that choice. I think it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think it is possible — and the difference — something the Obama administration is not very good at — they’re not very good at distinguishing between bad guys and good guys. 

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So over and over again, the Obama administration’s solution, for example, when it comes to surveillance, was to monitor the phone calls or the emails of millions of law-abiding citizens, but because of their political correctness, because they won’t focus on and identify radical Islamic terrorists, they don’t actually target the bad guys. It’s why it’s so important.

And y’know, it’s interesting, Benjamin, people in the media, sometimes they ask: Why does it matter whether Obama will say the words “radical Islamic terrorism?” 

[Yes, I’m one of those media people who has wondered this. Please explain, senator.]

It matters because if you don’t identify the problem, you don’t devote — you don’t direct law enforcement and national security resources to stopping it.

I’ll give a specific example from my home state of Florida. Fort Hood. Nidal Hasan committed a horrific terrorist attack there. Now, the Obama administration knew before the attack that Nidal Hasan communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a known radical Islamic cleric. They knew that Nidal Hasan had asked about the permissibility of waging jihad and murdering his fellow soldiers. And yet for whatever reason, political correctness or what have you, they didn’t do anything. If we find out that a member of the armed services is talking with a radical Islamic cleric and asking about waging jihad against his fellow soldiers, within minutes, MPs should show up at his door and put him in handcuffs.

But they didn’t do that, and Nidal Hasan murdered 14 innocent souls, including an unborn child, yelling “allahu akbar.” And then the Obama administration in truly a stunning display of political correctness defined that terrorist attack as “workplace violence.” We need to direct our resources at going after the Nidal Hasans, going after the radical Islamic terrorists, and we can do that at the same time as not infringing the privacy of law-abiding Americans, distinguishing between the bad guys and the good guys. That’s what this administration hadn’t been doing.

Wow. That’s the whole answer. It purports to explain why he constantly faults Obama’s refusal to adopt “radical Islamic terrorism” as a buzz phrase. Now I haven’t seen a fact-check of Cruz’ account of the events leading up to the horrible Fort Hood shooting of 2009. But I’d have to say Cruz didn’t quite get to the part where the use of his favorite three-word phrase, which Obama won’t utter, would have saved those lives. You can sort of see where he thinks he’s going, but he just doesn’t get there and, frankly, I’m not sure whether there’s a there to which to get.

Homesick?

Oh, and speaking of fact-checking, Trump, who came on right after Cruz, right away went after Cruz for not knowing his own home state. You may have noticed that Cruz placed Fort Hood (which is in Texas) in Florida and then (strangely, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it) Cruz referred to Florida as “my home state,” which actually, is also Texas.

Said Trump, right after announcing that he would retain Lewandowski:

“By the way, speaking of something else, I watched Ted Cruz. His home state is not Florida. His home state is Texas. It may be Canada. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s Texas. So he made that — I was surprised you didn’t correct him, actually.”

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And then, hilariously, after Cooper tried to press him on whether tolerating Lewandowski was a negative reflection on Trump’s leadership, Trump replied, just a few seconds after the previous reference:

“Oh, I think my leadership is very good. I’ve watched Ted Cruz, I watched him. He didn’t even know what state he comes from, OK? I watched him talking about he comes from the state of Florida. Fort Hood is in Texas, by the way. But if you see what he said. I don’t know. I’m so surprised with him, Anderson, that you let him get away with that.”

To make matters even more confusing, there is also a Fort Hood in Florida and there was a shooting episode there in 2014. Trump’s obsession with Cruz’ slip of the tongue and Cooper’s failure to point it out is obnoxious and ridiculous. But the Nidal Hasan shooting definitely happened at the Fort Hood in Texas, and Florida is definitely not Cruz’ home state. Cruz was born in Canada and grew up in Texas, which remains his home.

So there’s that.

By the way, according to the transcript of the Cruz interview, he managed to work in the phrases “radical Islamic terrorist” (or “terrorists” or “terrorism” or, in one case, “radical Islamic cleric”) an impressive 14 times, beginning with a reference to what he called Obama’s “bizarre pattern — that he has followed for year after year after year — where he refuses to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’” and ending with this one:

“I’ll tell ya’, as president, every single day I will wake up fighting radical Islamic terrorism and working to defeat it.”