WASHINGTON - It's a good thing I don't live in our nation's capital. If I did, I'd spend all my time defending my friend, Ted Cruz.
The relentless and personal attacks on the Texas senator -- who has been in office for only four months -- come from both liberals and conservatives. The critics are of the Washington mindset that suggests there is a proper way that things are done in this city.
Cruz doesn't follow the script.
Commenting on news reports that the 42-year-old plans to pursue the White House in 2016, Joan Walsh of left-leaning Salon smugly predicted that the first-term senator "will never be president," especially with his credentials as a "far-right ideologue" and the fact that he is an "expert in the kind of crazy the tea party likes."
New York Times columnist David Brooks, known as a moderate conservative, went off the rails. He didn't criticize Cruz to his face. He actually criticized his face. "If you mention the name Ted Cruz to other senators, you just get titanic oceans of eye-rolling," Brooks said during a television interview. "It doesn't help that he has a face that looks a little like Joe McCarthy, actually."
And, not wanting to be left behind, right-wing Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin criticized Cruz for calling some of his Republican Senate colleagues "a bunch of squishes" on gun control. She wrote: "There is being principled, and then there is being a jerk. Putting down your colleagues to boost your own street cred with the base falls into the latter category."
The Cruz criticism doesn't end. You would never know that the reason many of my colleagues and I got into this business was to defend those who were being piled on, not to join the pile.
This must be the new rite of passage for the clubby D.C. press corps. It used to be that all you had to do was poke at George W. Bush or Sarah Palin for supposedly not being very smart. Now you bash Cruz for supposedly being too smart for his own good.
Everyone wants to know: Who does this guy think he is?
I'll tell you. Unlike most of his critics, I've known Cruz for more than 10 years. And, the real thing doesn't resemble the caricature.
Here are the charges leveled against him: Cruz doesn't ask "Mother, may I?" before he speaks. Cruz doesn't respect his elders in the Senate. (This includes John McCain, who ironically, in 2000, built an entire presidential campaign on his reputation for being a "maverick" in the Senate.) Cruz is starved for attention. (No, not in politics!) Cruz insults his colleagues for being "squishes" on tough issues. (Like Chuck Hagel who, in January 2007, scolded his Senate colleagues for waffling on the surge in Iraq, telling them: "If you want a safe job, go sell shoes.") Cruz has an enormous ego. (No, not in the Senate!) And, lastly, Cruz is in an awful hurry to make his mark. (Like Barack Obama, who formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run in January 2007, just two years after being sworn in to his first Senate term).
Not all the reviews are negative. Consider what one well-known Beltway exile had to say about Cruz.
"I think he is the most talented and fearless Republican politician I've seen in the last 30 years," Democratic strategist James Carville said during a panel discussion on ABC's "This Week." "I further think that he is going to run for president, and he is going to create something. ... This guy has no fear. He just keeps plowing ahead. He is going to be something to watch. ... He is more talented than all of these other guys."
You know, it seems that Carville is thinking more clearly since when he and his wife, Mary Matalin, left the D.C. bubble and moved to New Orleans in 2008.
The Ragin' Cajun is right. Ted Cruz doesn't back up. He keeps coming. He is not shy, deferential or susceptible to peer pressure. And that terrifies the Washington establishment -- in both parties. Just as it frustrates the media. Neither one knows what to do with him.