Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was scheduled in October to speak at Memorial Union in an event to promote his podcast “The Verdict” in coordination with the conservative student group Young America’s Foundation.
But Cruz and the Young America’s Foundation decided at the last minute to move the event off campus to the Wisconsin Masonic Center after apparently realizing they would be required to wear masks. They argued the University of Wisconsin was trying to censor them with the mask mandate all students and campus visitors are required to follow with extremely limited exceptions.
Cruz later Tweeted, “UW-Madison is trying to stifle free speech and prevent @michaeljknowles and me from recording a live episode of #VERDICT. Their Marxist COVID mandates won’t stop us!”
The current Dane County mask mandate requires face coverings for people ages 2 and older in any enclosed space open to the public. An Aug. 5, UW issued a mask mandate that requires students, employees and visitors to wear masks inside all campus buildings.
These requirements were relatively easy to find and Cruz’s team appears to have been warned of the mandates ahead of their event. If an 18- to 22-year-old student can figure out what county and campus mandates are, you would think a U.S. senator — who is a 50 year old with a career in government — could figure it out.
Because it is so easy to figure out the regulations, it seems like Sen. Cruz’s choice to come to Wisconsin and create social media outrage with his absurd Tweets could have been an intentional way to generate free attention for his podcast. It appears to be a skilled publicity stunt.
There is an understandable debate on the mask mandate. A lot of people think the mandate is unconstitutional or that people should have the freedom to make personal decisions regarding their own health. Whether you agree with that statement or not, it is a fair point.
But it should be no shock mandates like these exist in various counties. Anyone who has lived in the United States during the pandemic knows there are varying mask mandates and potential vaccine mandates throughout the entire country.
Choosing to believe in the capabilities of our elected officials, I want to assume Ted Cruz, an esteemed senator, is informed enough to know he is not actually being “censored” by the mask mandates that apply to the 561,504 people living in Dane County. UW gave him an event at the main student hub on campus and simply asked him to abide by their guidelines.
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Being from a heavily liberal state, I have seen quite a few attempts of censorship directed toward politically conservative minds. This occurrence, however, is not an example of censorship.
A more valid debate of conservative-directed censorship would be Twitter removing thousands of followers from Republican lawmakers’ Twitter accounts following the Jan. 6 insurrection, though these actions were likely done because the followers had some link to QAnon accounts. While there is a lot of controversy on whether or not this action violates the First Amendment, it is very clear that it is a more valid cause for conversation and debate surrounding censorship.
Senator Cruz having to change his venue is not censorship, especially when there is a large population of Republicans in Wisconsin and politically-conservative UW students are more likely to feel safe and respected on campus than their political opposites, according to a report by The Capital Times. Does Ted Cruz think he is important enough for a large, public university to reverse a mask mandate just for him?
All in all, Sen. Cruz is a decently smart man, but his actions have been pretty disappointing. He is not wrong about the mask mandate. People should be able to choose. They should be encouraged to wear masks for the health and safety of themselves and others, but requiring people to do something when personal health is involved could be reasonably argued as an impediment on rights and freedom.
With that being said, the school is abiding by Dane County protocol and their own guidelines set up to protect campus. Sen. Cruz works in government, so it might be a better use of his time to discuss concerns with his colleagues and superiors. This is a more mature solution than calling out UW and students, who are just taking necessary precautions to keep classes in session.
We should also remember wearing a mask does not prevent Sen. Cruz from speaking. In fact, the regulations allow his audience to hear him speak in the first place, all the while keeping each other safe.
It is unfortunate that he had to stoop so low and attack people trying to do the best they can, instead of calling into question the people of authority creating these mandates.
Jessica Lewin ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying journalism.