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Ted Cruz Said Something Intelligent

We have wrestled, numerous times, with the reputation that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has for being extremely smart. He's certainly got the résumé of a highly intelligent person, and folks who have interacted with him say he's sharp as a tack. On the other hand, we've never seen much evidence. Is he dumbing things down when he speaks publicly (very possible)? Or are people judging too much based on reputation and résumé, and unwilling to be the one to say the emperor has no clothes (also possible)?

Late last week, the Senator finally said something that impressed us with his intellectual heft. He was on the program of Joseph "Joe Pags" Pagliarulo, one of the seemingly endless army of right-wing radio talkers. Pags asked about the possibility of impeaching Joe Biden, and Cruz said that it would end in disappointment, because there is nothing Biden could do that would lead to his being impeached by the Senate. Here is the exact quote: "I don't think Senate Democrats, if you had video of Joe Biden murdering children dressed as the devil under a full moon while singing Pat Benatar, they still wouldn't vote to convict."

That had a lot of people scratching their heads, and we presume that virtually everyone reading right now is thinking: "Wait. That's evidence of intelligence?" Please bear with us. Obviously, Cruz was pandering to right-wing elements who believe the system is unfairly stacked in favor of the Democrats. That's just tacky politicking, and is not the evidence of intelligence. Meanwhile, because Cruz is an unpleasant person who has no problem taking cheap shots, particularly when it involves people who cannot fight back, most people interpreted the remark as a bizarro, out-of-left-field smear of Pat Benatar.

That's not actually what was going on. Cruz was born in the 1970s, and his cultural references are both kind of square and are permanently frozen at roughly the year 1993. That said, to a person born around that same time, and familiar with the popular culture of Cruz's youth, it should have been immediately apparent what he was going for. Benatar has a song called "Hell Is for Children," which includes the refrain "Hell is for Children/And you shouldn't have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh." Once you recall that, then it becomes clear why he put Benatar, the devil, and murdering children in the same sentence. Although the Senator's wording does leave open the question of whether he was referring to Biden, in devil's costume, murdering children, or if he was referring to Biden murdering children who are wearing devil costumes.

The upshot here is that when your mind, and your train of thought, move faster than your mouth can move, that's actually a pretty compelling sign of intelligence. Well, assuming that once the thought is parsed, it makes sense. Donald Trump's rambling speeches, by contrast, are just word salads, and do not tend to contain reasonably relevant references that can be decoded.

We bring this up because Joe Biden had a rather similar incident over the weekend. He delivered a speech on gun control in Connecticut, and at the very end he looked at someone in the audience and said: "God save the queen, man."

For folks who have decided that Biden is senile, and who are determined to persuade everyone else, this was treated as ironclad proof that the President has lost most of his marbles. It was mentioned, for example, on every Fox show over the weekend, and on Monday The Story turned over an entire segment to the "scandal." Fox commentator Charly Arnolt, for example, opined: "I think people are really realizing how quickly he is losing it. I would be shocked if he's the 2024 candidate." Fair and balanced, every time.

We are, as you may imagine, disinclined to this interpretation of events. Even if you presume that Biden meant the remark literally, well, it's not a sign of massive cognitive decay to repeat a phrase that's been correct for the last 70 years of his life and has only been incorrect for the last 6 months. But looking right at someone in the audience, and adding "man" suggests he was responding to something specific. Exactly what, we do not know, since we are missing the other side of the conversation, and since we only have four words from Biden. Apropos to the example above, we will point out that "God Save the Queen" is also a song, one that came out in 1977, when Biden was in his thirties. Do we think he's a huge punk fan, and that he was following the latest trends in music as a young widower and freshman U.S. senator? Probably not, but you never know.

Indeed, per the example above, it's entirely plausible that the line, far from being evidence of senility, is actually evidence of an active mind. One that is operating at a speed such that the connections being made aren't always evident to outsiders. We don't know for sure. What we do know is that it doesn't read as "dementia" to us. And we also know that when Cruz made an equally incongruous remark, or seemingly so, people said many things about him, but "he's clearly growing senile" was not among them.

It might be asked why, if Biden's remark was innocuous, the White House hasn't explained the whole story. And the answer is that they have explained that the President was responding to someone in the crowd, but have not gone beyond that. There's little upside in doing so, especially if the explanation is complicated, and especially since the Foxes of the world are determined to see evidence of mental dysfunction regardless of what the administration says.

We do not mean to suggest it's impossible that Biden is in decline, and that this remark is a worrisome sign. It's certainly possible. After all, we now know Ronald Reagan was in decline as he moved into his eighties. But our sense is that Biden is fine, this incident is not revealing, and that some people need to be much more cautious about reaching conclusions they are not trained to reach. Sorry, Charlie. And God Save the Queen, man. (Z)

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