Have you noticed how many people absolutely loathe Texas Sen. Ted Cruz? John Boehner, whose life Cruz made miserable when Boehner was Speaker of the House, recently described the GOP presidential candidate as “Lucifer in the flesh.” Elaborating, Boehner said, “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
New York Rep. Peter King, also a Republican, one-upped Boehner’s comparison, observing that Boehner “gave Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz.”
As I was teaching Paradise Lost last week, I thought I’d check out Milton’s descriptions to see if any of them particularly apply to Cruz. I found many passages describing Satan’s big ego, but Cruz doesn’t have a monopoly on big egos. Self absorption may even be a prerequisite to running for president.
More apt was the passage where Satan whispers into Eve’s ear when she is sleeping. By appealing to “the organs of her fancy,” he softens her up for his next day’s temptation.
The scene reminds me of how Cruz met with 15-20 House members to persuade them to shut down the government unless President Obama rescinded Obamacare. It’s unclear whether they would have defied Boehner, who was undertaking delicate negotiations with the Democrats, had not Cruz met with them secretly at Tortilla Coast restaurant and fed their delusions. In Rep. King’s mind, the intervention was a “hoax,” designed to do nothing other than elevate Cruz. Here’s the passage:
Squat like a Toad, close at the ear of Eve;
Assaying by his Devilish art to reach
The Organs of her Fancy, and with them forge
Illusions as he list, Phantasms and Dreams…
The idea that Congress could have forced Obama to abandon his signature achievement was never anything more than an illusion or dream. The extreme right has had a number of unrealistic expectations about could be accomplished with a Democrat in the White House, some of them fed by the whispers of toad-squatting Cruz.
Cruz has also been the butt of other unfavorable literary comparisons by his colleagues. There may be a Julius Caesar reference, for instance, in South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham’s observation that “[i]f you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota (D), meanwhile, invoked Bram Stoker, describing Cruz as “the lovechild of Joe McCarthy and Dracula.”
The character that comes most to my mind, however, is Blifil, Tom Jones’s nemesis in Henry Fielding’s great novel. Blifil, whom Fielding occasionally links with Lucifer, combines outward sanctimoniousness with cold and calculated self-interest. Furthermore Blifil, like Cruz, has one of “those grinning sneers with which the devil marks his best beloved.”
The devil gets mentioned again towards the end of the novel when Blifil is on the verge of being exposed for his underhanded dealings. Fielding tells us how his special friend comes to his aid:
[I]n this particular instance he had imposed upon [Tom’s friend Mrs. Miller] as well as upon the rest; so entirely had the devil stood his friend. And, indeed, I look upon the vulgar observation, “That the devil often deserts his friends, and leaves them in the lurch,” to be a great abuse on that gentleman’s character. Perhaps he may sometimes desert those who are only his cup acquaintance; or who, at most, are but half his; but he generally stands by those who are thoroughly his servants, and helps them off in all extremities, till their bargain expires.
It’s worth noting that, after Blifil’s crimes become known and he is cast from Allworthy’s favor, we see him eyeing a second career.
He plans to run for a seat in Parliament.