Someone has joked that Ted Cruz’s faux filibuster this past week has brought Republican and Democratic senators together like no event since 9-11. They all joined up in their hate for him. Of course, I’m interested in Cruz’s literary allusions in the 21-hour harangue. Two children’s classics got mentioned.
A lot has been written on Cruz’s references to Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, so I’ll pass on that here, just noting that it would be certainly ironic if the American public ends up liking Obamacare in the same way that the book’s speaker ends up liking green eggs and ham. In five years will we find our citizens saying, as they do now with Medicare, “I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am/Barack Obama”? For blog posts written on Cruz and Seuss’s classic, go here and here. For a great Tom Toles cartoon, go here.
As a child, I was far more familiar with the other book Cruz mentioned: the Wally Piper Depression era classic “The Little Engine that Could” (1930). The story, which you can read in its entirety here, features a train that breaks down when it is carrying toys and other goodies to children on the other side of the mountain. It appeals to passing trains for help but is turned down by a proud passenger train and an equally proud freight train. An old rusty train, meanwhile, claims that it’s just too tired.
Then along comes a little blue train that is normally just used around the train yard. Appealed to by the toys, it at first has doubts but then hitches itself up to the box cars and, straining with all its might, makes it over the mountain. All the while, it chants to itself the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can.” When it crests the peak and is gliding down the other side, the words change to, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
While Cruz, radical conservative that he is, hardly seems to be the type of person who is willing to be open to alien experiences a la green eggs and ham, Piper’s classic seems to affirm Cruz’s belief in Americans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I can imagine him, as a child, thrilling to the words, “I think I can, I think I can.” And then, after graduating with honors from Princeton and then Harvard Law School, smugly declaring, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
Some gaps appear between Cruz and this story as well, however. First of all, the little engine, unlike all the other trains, is fairly modest. It believes in working with those in need, not going it alone. Finally, one can’t imagine that it would be in favor of austerity economics or cutting food stamps to the hungry. Rather, it wants to deliver toys to boys and girls.
Cruz strikes me as having much more in common with the passenger and freight train, who are full of themselves and barely acknowledge the broken down train. After all, it’s obviously a slacker looking for a free handout.
Or to invoke another Dr. Seuss character, Cruz to me most resembles the Grinch.
Additional note: One other literary allusion has been applied to Cruz and then picked up by others: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times compares him to the knight of La Mancha tilting with windmills. I respect Kristof but, please, no! Quixote is a genuine romantic longing for a golden age where romance still rules. Cruz is a demagogue who has figured out how to play the hate card to earn millions and line up the Tea Party vote for 2016 GOP primaries. The two don’t belong in the same sentence.