A favorite talking point of liberal pundits churlish over Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz’s GOP primary win in Texas this week is that the Senate candidate is a conspiracy nut who believes the United Nations wants to take away golf courses. Is that so? Well, yes, actually, but that leaves out a lot of context, something that liberals, just last week, told us was really, really important. So let’s unpack this:

Here’s how New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it in blog post: “the Republican nominee for Senate in Texas is a man who believes that there is a global plot, led by George Soros, to eliminate golf courses.

Krugman’s citation for the claim is this post from ThinkProgress, one of the in-house blogs for the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress. With its usual subtlety, TP claims:

Ted Cruz Believes George Soros Leads A United Nations Conspiracy To Eliminate Golf: In 1992, President George H.W. Bush joined the leaders of 177 other nations in endorsing a non-binding UN document known as Agenda 21. This twenty year-old document largely speaks at a very high level of generality about reducing poverty and building sustainable living environments. Nevertheless, Cruz published an article on his campaign website claiming that this non-binding document is actually a nefarious plot to “abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads.” To top it off, Cruz lays the blame for this global anti-golf conspiracy at the feet of a well-known Tea Party boogieman — “The originator of this grand scheme is George Soros.”

Is this true? Cruz does indeed oppose Agenda 21 but while he does use some pretty charged language he doesn’t call it a conspiracy. Nor does he say it is directed solely at golf courses.  Rather he is opposing what he sees as a broader UN-led effort to direct local development policies in the name of the environment. He does finger George Soros as its architect.

In a section on his website Cruz says that Agenda 21 “establishes a regime of rules that attempt to bypass Congress and the American people, handing over power over vast areas of the US economy to unelected UN bureaucrats” He adds that the potentially targeted areas are ones the environmentalists call “unsustainable” including “golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads.” In big, bold letters Cruz warns: “Agenda 21 subverts liberty, our property rights, and our sovereignty.”

Cruz’s stance reflects a growing concern among of a lot of people in the Tea Party movement  that Agenda 21 is dangerous. They’ve even reportedly gotten the Republican National Committee to take an anti-Agenda 21 stance.  The principal ideological mover on this appears to be a non-profit called the American Policy Center whose president, Tom DeWeese, has often appeared at Tea Party events.

Property rights have been a major issue for the right ever since the Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision. That 2005 case affirmed the power of local governments to use their eminent domain powers to seize private property from its owners and give it to a private developer.  Many conservatives worry this is a dangerous precedent. Claims that the UN was moving in the same direction have found a ready audience. Cruz, a former Supreme Court law clerk for the late Chief Justice William Rhenquist, is apparently particularly sensitive on the issue of property rights.

Okay, but is Agenda 21 really a threat in the sense of giving the UN new legal authority? No, not hardly. The actual UN resolution, which can be read here, is a tedious collection of environmentally-friendly blather. As with virtually anything the UN does, it is almost entirely symbolic. And DeWeese concedes this point on his website: “So it’s true, there are no UN blue helmeted troops occupying city halls in America, and yes, the UN itself does not have enforcement capability for this ‘non-binding’ (sic) document called Agenda 21.”

DeWeese then adds “However, it does have its own storm troopers in the person of the Non-governmental Organizations (sic) which the UN officially sanctions to carry on its work. And that is how Agenda 21, a UN policy, has become a direct threat to local American communities.”

He’s referring to a group called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, formed in 1990 and funded by the European Union,  advocates for Agenda 21. Based in Bonn, Germany, it now bills itself  as “the world’s largest association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development. ICLEI is a powerful movement of 12 mega-cities, 100 super-cities, 450 large cities and urban regions as well as 650 small and medium-sized cities and towns in 80 countries.”

In a recent press release, for example, it announced a “major new survey of cities launches today at the Rio+20 Global Town Hall”:

The survey report, Going Green: How cities are leading the next economy, shows the extent to which cities have successfully integrated green policies since the last United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 1992. All 53 cities surveyed aspired to be “green”, with 95% reporting that they believed green policies would benefit the economy, and 75% reporting they were willing to invest in new green technology to drive change.

The 1992 conference was the one that created Agenda 21. ICLEI cites its efforts to implement  “Local Agenda 21″ several times in this 2004 brochure. Its FAQ page though stresses that it is independent of the UN and its programs are entirely voluntary:

ICLEI does not seek to impose or mandate upon local governments any policies or initiatives, such as United Nations Agenda 21 – nor does ICLEI have any authority to do so.

In other words ICLEI is a voluntary membership organization. To the extent that the local governments are working with the organization, it is because those local government leaders are simpatico with its agenda. Sustainable development is, after all, a very popular idea on its own among liberals and greens and is advocated by people unaffiliated with either ICLEI or the UN. This is the exact opposite of a conspiracy: it is the public process of politics even if it hasn’t gotten the media attention it deserves.

So, to sum all of this up: No, Ted Cruz is not running around saying the UN is running a conspiracy to take away golf but he  does subscribe to a broader theory that the UN is planning to try to assert powers that would restrict the ability of communities to develop their property.