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It was the best of the Senate, it was the worst of the Senate…

Two breakout stars have already emerged from the freshman class of the U.S. Senate of 2013.

Both Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have demonstrated the ability to make news with just the power of their rhetoric and their ability to effortlessly infuriate their political opponents. And both senators are trying to aim their message at the same disaffected group of Americans who have seen little or no evidence of a recovery: the middle class.

Cruz, speaking to Republican donors in New York last week, picked one of the middle class’ favorite heels — Mitt Romney — as a way to illustrate his strategy for broadening the Republican Party.

“I am going to suggest that the last election can be explained in two words: 47 percent,” Cruz said, referencing the secretly recorded video of Romney, showing the former Massachusetts governor disdainfully insisting to donors that certain voters “will vote for the president no matter what” because they “believe that they are victims.”

“The national narrative of the last election was the 47 percent of Americans who are not currently paying income taxes, who are in some ways dependent on government, we don’t have to worry about them,” he said. “That was what was communicated in the last election. I have to tell you as a conservative I cannot think of an idea more opposite to what I believe. I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.”

He then went on to explain that he liked Romney’s “You built that! slogan but thought it should have been “You can build it!” echoing what has always been the subtext of trickle-down economics and fraternity hazing: You’re going to enjoy being on top, so hook your betters up!

After his speech, Cruz was asked by Capital New York‘s Reid Pillifant why he stood with the 20 percent of Americans who oppose broadening background checks. The junior senator from Texas then demonstrated why he is a very skillful demagogue.

“What the legislation that the Democrats pushed in the Senate would have done is extended the existing background check system, which right now applies to any sales from a federally licensed firearms dealer to private citizens,” he said.

The Manchin-Toomey amendment extends background checks to online sales and gun shows. It — to the dismay of many activists — excludes sales between private citizens. Cruz then used this false premise to offer a lie he’s told over and over, that passing that amendment would lead to the Justice Department establishing a registry of all gun owners, which to NRA types is the sum of all fears: The government will know who is armed and will inevitably come for their guns the way conservative talk radio hosts pretend Hitler did.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent explains that this argument is entirely false. “In fact, the current background check law does prohibit the creation of a registry. Indeed, according to the ACLU — which conservatives themselves cited as an authority on background check legislation – Manchin-Toomey would  actually strengthen those prohibitions,” Sargent wrote.

Pillifant pointed out that Cruz wasn’t telling the truth, which prompted one of the greatest “Yeah, but”s of all time.

“It purports to do so,” the senator said.


Cruz then listed all of the so-called Obama scandals he could remember as evidence that a law banning a registry wouldn’t matter, which is an argument against passing any law ever, not an argument for why he gets to lie about what’s in a bill.

Conservatives have accused Senator Warren of deception in her argument for a law that would reduce the rate students pay on subsidized loans to .75 percent — except Warren’s premise is true. Banks do get to borrow money overnight from the Fed at that rate. The government could offer that same rate to students. Right-wingers may not like that Warren doesn’t explain that long-term rates are different from overnight rates and that these loans from the Fed make sure the banking system stays solvent. She’s clearly playing on the history of our bailout of the big banks and continuing subsidies that allow them to remain “too big to fail” in order ask why we don’t go to such extremes for our students.

Cruz is asking, “Why should you trust the government?” Warren is asking, “Why should we prop up the banks and not students?”

But Cruz’s question is a distraction for why he’s denying the will of the public — Warren’s point gets to the heart of  a financial system that favors the richest at the expense of working Americans.

And while Cruz wants you to aspire to be in the 1 percent, Warren argues that the rich depend on the middle class for continued prosperity, thus have a responsibility to their country.

“The fundamental question that is going on in this country right now is – are we a country that believes ‘I got mine, the rest of you are on your own,’” Warren said last week in a speech at Boston College, “or are we a country that believes we are in this together?”

“I believe in a world in which we come together,” she said, echoing a vision of the New Deal policies that led to the economic expansion of the 50s and 60s that created America’s middle class.

Ted Cruz can’t tell you the truth because the policies he’s pushing are based on distortions and an escalation of the same failed policies that have created rising inequality and misery for the middle class.

Unlike Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz won’t help the 47 percent — even if he “purports” to want to do so.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via

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