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, he 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 cuff 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.