Ted Cruz, the junior United States Senator from Texas, is very concerned about the state of American academia. His concern is a little odd, though. Jane Mayer at the New Yorker writes, in reference to Cruz’s insinuation that Sen. Chuck Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea, that Cruz also has some problems with Harvard Law School:

Two and a half years ago, Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there.

He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Harvard Law School’s Charles Fried, U.S. Solicitor General from 1985 to 1989 (under Ronald Reagan) explained to Mayer that Cruz was just wrong “I can right offhand count four ‘out’ Republicans (including myself)… I would be surprised if there were any members of the faculty who ‘believed in the Communists overthrowing the U.S. government.’”

If a politician going to make up a threat in order to generate political support, it’s probably best to make up a convincing threat. Can Harvard Law perhaps be harboring al-Qaeda sympathizers? That would make more sense.

It’s true that Cruz was referencing his own time as a student at Harvard Law, from 1992 to 1995, so al-Qaeda might be a little fanciful but come on, if you’re going to lie, it’s best to lie big, right?

Cruz’s accusation was odd in that it’s highly unlikely any American school is harboring a significant number of academics devoted to an anachronistic and failed political system. How many roundheads teach American tort law? How many anti-Masons? How many Fourierists?

Harvard law surely does have Marxists on the faculty. A Marxist is someone who views political life in terms of economic factors; specifically such people believe that the means of production influences or determines political life. That is not at all the same thing as being a revolutionary communist intent on overthrowing the existing American government and instituting a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer