Just two weeks after denouncing economic-justice protesters as an angry “mob,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) seemed to be shifting gears. Last Sunday, Cantor acknowledged the “warranted” frustrations of the middle class, and this week, was even poised to deliver a speech on economic inequality.
As it turns out, Cantor changed his mind. Yesterday, the oft-confused Majority Leader abruptly canceled, saying the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School invited the public to attend the speech, which meant Cantor would refuse to appear. The Republican appears to have been fibbing — university officials explained that the event had always been billed as “open to the general public,” and that Cantor’s accusation of a last-minute change in attendance policy simply wasn’t true.
That Cantor was afraid to talk about economic inequalities in front of the public is pretty ridiculous. That Cantor is making dishonest excuses makes matters slightly worse.
But let’s put all of that aside and consider what the Majority Leader intended to say if he’d kept his commitment and shown up. The Daily Pennsylvanian, UPenn’s campus newspaper, published the prepared text of Cantor’s speech, offering the rest of us a chance to see the GOP leader’s thoughts on the larger issues.
After having read it, it seems Cantor probably made a wise choice canceling at the last minute.
How would the Majority Leader address growing income inequalities? He wouldn’t. In fact, Cantor’s plan seems to be to discourage people from talking about the issue altogether.
“There are politicians and others who want to demonize people that [sic] have earned success in certain sectors of our society. They claim that these people have now made enough, and haven’t paid their fair share. But, pitting Americans against one another tends to deflate the aspirational spirit of our people and fade [sic] the American dream.”
This is just dumb. Asking those who’ve benefited most from society to pay a fair share isn’t “pitting Americans against one another” or “demonization.” (An actual example would be when Cantor and his ilk condemn labor unions, scientists, teachers, economists, trial lawyers, and community organizers.) What’s more, in context, didn’t use these tired platitudes as a transition to a substantive point; there were no substantive points.
“Much of the conversation in the current political debate today has been focused on fairness in our society. Republicans believe that what is fair is a hand up, not a hand out. We know that we all don’t begin life’s race from the same starting point. I was fortunate enough to be born into a stable family that provided me with the tools that I needed to get ahead. Not everyone is so lucky. Some are born into extremely difficult situations, facing severe obstacles. The fact is many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use.”
And how would Cantor help improve these conditions, clearing the way for income mobility? He’d cut taxes on the wealthy again, and wait for wealth to trickle down. That’s his solution to the growing gap between rich and poor.
The Majority Leader went on to say, “We should want all people to be moving up and no one to be pulled down.” Tim Noah noted how misguided Cantor’s understanding of economics is: “Cantor’s income inequality solution is to elevate all of the bottom 99 percent in incomes up to the top 1 percent. That would shut up the Occupy Wall Street crowd for sure! A more practical solution — and one that doesn’t violate the laws of mathematics — would be to encourage mobility, by all means (the U.S. has actually fallen behind most of western Europe in this regard) but also to pay close attention to what happens to the people who don’t make it to the top. The bottom 99 percent contribute to prosperity too, and lately they haven’t had much to show for it. Cantor seems not in the slightest bit curious as to how that happened.”
How many policy ideas did Cantor present to address economic inequalities, in his speech about economic inequalities? None.
Keep in mind, this was a prepared speech, not comments made off the kuff in an interview. Cantor was able to take his time, think about the subject in depth, and rely on his staff to present a coherent vision with some depth.
And the intellectually bankrupt Majority Leader still couldn’t think of anything interesting to say.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 22, 2011
At first blush, it’s tempting to think congressional Republicans are simply out of their minds to kill jobs bills during a jobs crisis. It seems insane — Americans are desperate for Congress to act; Americans overwhelmingly support bills like the one considered by the Senate last night; and yet GOP officials seem wholly unconcerned. Aren’t they afraid of a backlash?
Well, no, probably not. The reason probably has something to do with voters like Dale Bartholomew.
Now, my point is not to pick on one random voter quoted in an Associated Press article. He’s very likely a well-intentioned guy who’s simply frustrated with what’s going on in Washington. I certainly don’t blame him for that.
Consider, though, the significance of a quote like this one.
“If Romney and Obama were going head to head at this point in time I would probably move to Romney,” said Dale Bartholomew, 58, a manufacturing equipment salesman from Marengo, Ill. Bartholomew said he agrees with Obama’s proposed economic remedies and said partisan divisions have blocked the president’s initiatives.
But, he added: “His inability to rally the political forces, if you will, to accomplish his goal is what disappoints me.”
Got that? This private citizen agrees with Obama, but is inclined to vote for Romney anyway — even though Romney would move the country in the other direction — because the president hasn’t been able to “rally the political forces” to act sensibly in Washington.
That is heartbreaking, but it’s important — Republicans have an incentive, not only to hold the country back on purpose, but also to block every good idea, even the ones they agree with, because they assume voters will end up blaming the president in the end. And here’s a quote from a guy who makes it seem as if the GOP’s assumptions are correct.
It’s hard to say just how common this sentiment is, but it doesn’t seem uncommon. The public likes to think of the President of the United States, no matter who’s in office, as having vast powers. He or she is “leader of the free world.” He or she holds the most powerful office on the planet. If the president — any president — wants a jobs bill, it must be within his or her power to simply get one to the Oval Office to be signed into law.
And when the political system breaks down, and congressional Republicans kill ideas that are worthwhile and popular, there’s an assumption that the president is somehow to blame, even if that doesn’t make any sense at all. Indeed, here we have a quote from a voter who is inclined to reward Republicans, giving them more power, even though the voter agrees with Obama — whose ideas (and presidency) Republicans are actively trying to destroy.
As Greg Sargent, who first flagged the quote in the AP article, explained: “Voters either don’t understand, or they don’t care, that the GOP has employed an unprecedented level of filibustering in order to block all of Obama’s policies, even ones that have majority public support from Dems, independents and Republicans alike. Their reaction, in a nutshell, seems to be: The Obama-led government isn’t acting on the economy? Obama can’t get his policies passed? Well, he must be weak.”
The challenge for the president isn’t to teach Civics 101 to the populace; that would take too long. The task at hand is communicating who deserves credit for fighting to make things better, and who deserves blame for standing in the way.
Because if voters who agree with Obama are inclined to vote for Republicans because Republicans are blocking Obama’s ideas, then not only is 2012 lost, but the descent of American politics into hysterical irrationality is complete.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 21, 2011