Ted Cruz Is Right. Yes, That Ted Cruz

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Corn in Iowa, ready to be turned into … fuel for your car! Like some 40% of the corn the U.S. grows, it will be turned into an ethanol additive for gasoline, under a program that Ted Cruz is the only major running-in-Iowa candidate brave or crazy enough to criticize. (Jason Reed / Reuters)

Clare Foran reported on our site yesterday about the rapidly intensifying Ted Cruz-Donald Trump grudge match in Iowa. (Bonus essay question on Cruz: Has there been another elected official about whom so many people explain their opposition by saying, I just don’t like him? Maybe Nixon? OTOH with his honed debater instincts Cruz could well retort that, unlovable or not, Nixon carried the Electoral College twice.)

In Iowa, the Cruz-Trump contest has moved to the inevitable Ethanol Stage of the competition, in which candidates scramble to see who can be more abject impassioned in supporting mandated use of ethanol in U.S. fuel supplies.

Just because the “what ethanol is” point tends to get skipped over in these discussions, it’s worth emphasizing what “a mandated use of ethanol” actually means. As the weather warms up, we’ll all be paying farmers to till fields, plant crops, weed and fertilize them, watch them grow — so that at the end of the season they can bring in their perfectly good corn (and a few other crops), and have more than one-third of it turned into gasoline.

In war-for-survival circumstances, when a country is cut off from foreign supplies and must produce every drop of fuel it wants to use, you might see the case for this policy. But it is manifestly nuts right now — when an (at least temporary) oversupply of oil is an economic and strategic reality, when domestic U.S. production of oil has been rising faster than any other nation’s, when you cannot make an environmental or carbon-footprint case for using good farmland and good food (and the labor and fertilizer and fuel and insecticide that went into growing the food) in this way. Background on the shared, bi-partisan responsibility for this sad policy here.


But you don’t have to believe me. Or even believe a (pre-Bloomberg) Business Week takeout on “The Great Ethanol Scam.” Or even believe a Bloomberg View piece arguing that even the polluting VWs that were rigged to cheat their way through EPA tests are environmentally sounder than ethanol-fueled cars. Or this from Forbes.

No, instead you can believe the crowdsourced wisdom of the Atlantic’s international readership in a special contest I ran eight years ago, while living in China, designed to find the “stupidest policy ever” in U.S. governance. And the winner was … mandated use of ethanol in cars! Some of the arguments here.


On the merits, hardly anyone could endorse today’s ethanol policy with a straight face— unless that anyone were about to ask support in the Iowa caucuses. Just about everyone going into the state has avoided saying anything impolite about ethanol. Except, Ted Cruz! Who has decided to criticize ethanol with the Iowa showdown mere days away. Donald Trump, so outspoken on topics ranging from Mexican rapists to the “cloud” over Ted Cruz’s citizenship, has been uncharacteristically wishy-washy on this.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever find an occasion to say this, but: good job, Senator Cruz! May your legendary debating skills have an effect on the minds, hearts, and policy views of the people of Iowa.