He’s getting creamed for this, justifiably, and not only by liberals. The best part is the presented-without-comment framing, as though O’Rourke had been caught denying the Holocaust or saying something so similarly outlandish that no explanation is needed for why it should offend you.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 21, 2018
This is the second time he’s gone after the Democrat over the Botham Jean shooting, one of the most bananas cases of lethal force by a cop you’ll ever encounter. You probably know the facts by now but in case not: A white Dallas police officer came home after a 15-hour shift at work, found the door to her apartment slightly ajar, walked in and saw a man standing in the darkness. Thinking he was a burglar, she pulled her pistol, gave him “verbal commands” to freeze, then fired when he didn’t comply. He died. When she turned on the lights she realized it wasn’t her apartment at all; she had entered the unit directly above her own, which had an identical layout. The “burglar,” a black man, was in his own home, not hers.
This is the cop’s own version of events, let me stress. Neighbors claim they heard a woman yelling “let me in” before the shots were fired and there’s reason to believe that all doors in their apartment complex shut automatically, eliminating the possibility that the cop arrived to find “her” door open a crack such that she could breeze in without meeting resistance from the lock. Even the cop doesn’t claim that the victim, Botham Jean, was doing anything wrong. The narrative that’s *most* favorable to her, her own self-serving account, is that she strolled into another person’s home and ended up blowing him away, falsely believing she was in her own pad and that he was there committing some sort of crime. She’s been charged with manslaughter but the charges may be increased to murder.
And the kicker, as O’Rourke notes in the clip, is that somehow the fact that the dead man had marijuana in his apartment was leaked afterward to the media even though it had nothing to do with the incident. I wrote about that 10 days ago, struck by the fact that left and right seemed to react to the leak the same way. There was bipartisan outrage that a person who’d been gunned down in his own home was now being smeared postmortem as a criminal, apparently to try to make the cop’s actions — which were based on a horrendous misjudgment by her own admission — seem reasonable-ish.
So which part of what O’Rourke said is so outrageous that Cruz thought it would work as-is as an attack ad for his own campaign? What’s the message here? Two possibilities:
1. Anyone who’d take sides against a cop in a shooting, irrespective of the facts, is anti-cop.
2. Anyone who’d take sides against a white cop in the shooting of a black victim, irrespective of the facts, is anti-white.
That’s a very Trump-y message. (Some critics wondered whether it’s a coincidence that the video of O’Rourke that Cruz chose for his ad just happens to involve a cheering black audience, per point two.) A “constitutional conservative” who’s naturally skeptical of state power, which is how Cruz sold himself throughout the tea-party era and beyond, shouldn’t naturally gravitate to white identity politics and mindless respect for armed authority in analyzing a case in which an agent of the state killed an innocent man for no good reason. But this is how Republican politics operates in the Trump era, or at least how Cruz thinks it operates. That’s also why he’s been hammering O’Rourke for defending the NFL players who kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality. Same underlying themes as in this new ad: Blacks are complaining about how they’re being treated by bad white cops and the Democratic candidate sure is eager to side with them. He’s not “one of us.” Which leaves the question hanging in the air: Who’s the “us” he’s talking about? In the NFL example you could say it’s people who respect the flag and the national anthem. Who’s the “us” in this new ad that O’Rourke is supposedly against, though?
Bear in mind that a white cop was convicted of murder in the Dallas area for killing an unarmed black teen just within the past month. Inspired by that and the Botham Jean case, David French wrote recently about how his own view of police shootings has changed over time. He too used to approach it as an “us vs. them” issue, with the cops on one side and the Bad People on the other. It isn’t.
Truth be told, the way I covered this issue in 2015 and much of 2016 shed more heat than light. Here’s what I did. I looked at the riots in Ferguson, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Charlotte, the extremism of the formal Black Lives Matter organization (which referred to convicted cop-killers as “brothers” and “mama” and said its explicit goal was to “disrupt the western-prescribed nuclear family structure”), and the continued use of debunked claims, including “hands up, don’t shoot,” and I focused on these excesses largely to the exclusion of everything else.
Yes, I used all the proper “to be sure” language — there are some racist cops, not every shooting is justified, etc. — but my work in its totality minimized the vital quest for individual justice, the evidence that does exist of systematic racial bias, and I failed to seriously consider the very real problems that contribute to the sheer number of police killings in the U.S.
To put it bluntly, when I look back at my older writings, I see them as contributing more to a particular partisan narrative than to a tough, clear-eyed search for truth.
That’s the most charitable possibility for what Cruz is after here. The standard “partisan narrative” when a cop shoots an unnamed man is that the left sides with the victim and the right sides with authority. The new ad is merely another way, however cloddish, of signaling to Texas’s Republican majority how left-wing O’Rourke is. Look, he’s pushing the message that Team Blue typically pushes, not the one that Team Red does! He’s not one of us. Which really only circles you back to French’s point: Why should we require someone to defend a cop in every circumstance to qualify as “one of us,” including and especially a case where the cop herself admits she screwed up?
It’s commonly accepted (including by me) that Cruz isn’t really in danger of losing the Texas race. O’Rourke’s giving him a scare and no doubt the final margin will be tighter than most elections in Texas usually are, but Democrats simply don’t have the numbers to pull this off. If that’s so, though, why would Cruz stoop to this? Why take an innocent dead man and use O’Rourke’s justifiable outrage on his behalf and use it as some lowest-common-denominator Trumpian play on race and authority a la Trump’s infamous newspaper ad back in the day about the Central Park Five? It’s no sure thing that populist Republicans will respond well to this ad; like I said up top, they jeered the attempt to smear Jean after his death by leaking that he had weed in his apartment. But it’s unquestionably true that Cruz believes populist Republicans will respond well to it. Who does he think his base is at this point? What lessons did he take about the Republican electorate from his destruction at Trump’s hands in 2016?
My suspicion is that Cruz took the presented-without-comment approach to what O’Rourke said not because he felt it was so outrageous that it didn’t require further comment but rather the opposite. He couldn’t mount a good-faith argument against it but he knows, or believes, that many righties will find something offensive in it — “Beto hates cops,” “Beto hates whites” — so he’s running it up the flagpole for those people to salute. Am I giving him too much credit in suspecting that or not enough?