Listening to Ted Cruz's response to the terrorist attacks in Brussels raised a question: Is he a pitiful victim of hysteria, a calculated promoter of it or both? Major emergencies call for sober leadership and careful thought, but Cruz is intoxicated by his 150-proof ideology.
It's hard to tell whom he hates more -- terrorists or Barack Obama. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan's United Nations ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, charged that when unwelcome events occur, Democrats "always blame America first." Cruz has the same reflex. His immediate impulse on hearing of the Brussels bombings was to attack the president of the United States.
"Radical Islam is at war with us," he asserted in a statement. "For over seven years we have had a president who refuses to acknowledge this reality. And the truth is, we can never hope to defeat this evil so long as we refuse to even name it."
There are two flaws in this argument. The first is that it's ridiculous. Apparently, Cruz's parents never recited the old adage about sticks and stones. Calling those in the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) by one name or another has no effect on their motivation or capabilities. It also has no effect on their ability to elude detection or survive drone strikes. Cruz's complaint is a hollow non sequitur.
The second defect is that it's fictional. Obama doesn't deny that the Islamic State is Islamic. In his December Oval Office address, for example, the president said that "an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse."
Often it seems as though Cruz is determined to prove that he can match Donald Trump at his worst in scaremongering and scapegoating. What the two share is a consistent policy of mangling the truth and offering solutions that sound fierce but are about as solid as a helium balloon.
Cruz's fictions are part of a bigger fantasy: that Obama is so weak and craven that he is unwilling to protect Americans from those who want to kill us.
"We need a president who sets aside political correctness," Cruz declared, acidly accusing Obama of "surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we are."
It would come as a surprise to Osama bin Laden that Obama surrendered to al-Qaida -- that is, if bin Laden had survived the Navy SEAL raid the president ordered. It would come as a surprise to the estimated 26,000 Islamic State fighters the U.S. has killed in its lengthy air campaign.
This posturing is meant to keep voters from noticing that Cruz has no idea how to achieve his manly goals. He vows that as president, he would "utterly destroy ISIS." Somewhere he got the impression that stating an objective is tantamount to fulfilling it.
But what would he actually do as commander in chief? Ground troops in Iraq are one possibility he will neither embrace nor reject. He prefers to stress another option: "We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion."
If carpet-bombing were all it takes, we would have won the Vietnam War. Indiscriminate attacks that obliterate civilians would only guarantee that our supply of bloodthirsty enemies will never run out.
Another bright idea is "arming the Kurds," who are among the groups fighting the Islamic State. But this would largely reaffirm Obama's policy. The U.S. has already provided a lot of weapons and equipment to the Kurds -- enough to prompt outrage from the president of Turkey, who says we have created a "sea of blood" by helping Kurdish forces he regards as terrorists.
The Brussels carnage was a chance for Cruz to inveigh against Muslims, calling on police to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods," a transparently unconstitutional proposal he struggled to explain.
He repeated his claim that one of the San Bernardino terrorists was allowed to come here even though she "had publicly posted on social media calls to jihad" -- which FBI Director James Comey says never happened. "These communications are private, direct messages, not social media messages," Comey noted.
Cruz doesn't repeat this lie because he's unaware it's false. He repeats it because it serves his purpose in a way that an accurate statement would not. It's part of a pattern in his campaign, which is to twist reality to foster delusions and sow panic.
He may not know how to defeat Trump, Clinton or terrorists, but when Cruz speaks, the truth is always losing.