“Madam President, I rise today in opposition to ObamaCare,” Senator Ted Cruz said at 2:41 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, straining to imbue his words with a sense of gravitas appropriate for the historic moment.
“A great many Texans, a great many Americans feel they don’t have a voice. I hope to play some very small part in helping provide that voice for them,” the Senator intoned, with ostentatious humility. “I intend to speak in opposition to ObamaCare, I intend to speak in support of defunding ObamaCare…” and here he left a tiny pause, as if to further the likelihood of gasps from the gallery, “until I am no longer able to stand.”
So began a long speech that wasn’t quite a filibuster and that wasn’t designed to actually achieve anything, per se, other than to provide Cruz with a platform to speak about his beliefs, his family and friends, the things he likes and the things he thinks are really just the worst, as if the senate floor were his own college admissions personal essay.
Did Cruz happen to think those who refused to oppose health care reform were like Nazi appeasers? Of course he did. Did he have thoughts on Dr Seuss’s work? He did indeed, reciting Green Eggs and Ham and adapting it to his message: “When Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like ObamaCare either,” he said. “They did not like ObamaCare in a box, with a fox, in a house or with a mouse. It is not working.” (Pundits quickly pointed out that the Seuss book is, of course, about ignorant opposition to something you’ve never tried. When the narrator tries the scary new dish, he enjoys it.)
For Canadians, the performance was perplexing. When we see our countrymen making a splash across the border, we generally feel an uncontrollable urge to claim them as our own. “Ontario-born Malcolm Gladwell,” we pointedly add, in mixed American-Canadian company. “Did you know Anna Paquin is, in fact, Manitoban?” we say, annoyingly interrupting an episode of True Blood. “People think of her as from New Zealand, but she was actually born in Winnipeg. Isn’t that gap between her teeth endearing? Winnipeg is also the home of Winnie the Pooh, FYI. Not the writer, no. Just the bear himself.”
Ted Cruz is from Calgary, but was born to an American mother and moved to Texas when he was four. He can’t be said to be Canadian in any meaningful sense. Indeed, he recently announced he wanted to renounce his citizenship in possible anticipation of a 2016 Presidential run. For the average Canadian, it is difficult to understand his rabid hatred of health care reform. After Cruz’s speech, the Washington Post ran an article about how Canadians—even red-blooded, Canadian capitalists!—were baffled by the US health care debate.
Still, it’s impossible not to detect a familiar element in Cruz’s performance. There is a certain kind of Canadian who, in going abroad, tends to overdo it a bit. You can see the strain, a try-hardness that is unbecoming. There’s Ryan Gosling on the Tonight Show, delivering his polished anecdotes in a ridiculous accent he clearly didn’t pick up in Cornwall, Ontario. There’s Conrad Black, frantically deploying Anglicisms as if he hopes each plummy, thesaurus-born-word will obscure his embarrassing origins in one of the colonies. With the cowboy boots he insists on wearing and his inordinate (very Canadian) pride in his Ivy League education—Cruz wears his Princeton ring on his pinkie and dons his Harvard Law School crimson rob whenever possible, according to this GQ profile—Cruz’s strident Americanism can feel like it’s from a place uncomfortably close to home.
In any case, during his not-quite-filibuster, the Texas senator acted like his idea of an American hero. As the hours dragged on, through the night and into Wednesday morning, the 42-year-old Senator spoke as if he saw himself bathed in the soft lighting of a future biopic. He looked out into the gallery with the self-consciously noble expression of a man imagining how this moment would look commemorated on a stamp.
By the time it was all over, Cruz had spoken for 21 hours, approaching the record set by that American hero, Strom Thurmond, who in 1957 filibustered for 24 hours in opposition to the Civil Rights Bill. When he finally sat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the floor. “We all admire the senator from Texas for his… wanting to talk,” Reid said, with the driest of comic timing. Few Canadians felt the need to claim him as one of our own.