Anyone who has been following the news over the past few months knows that a complete gridlock has taken over Washington. At the root of this problem is a radical wing of the Republican Party that spurns compromise and acts with one guiding principle: Thwarting President Barack Obama at every turn. These Republicans brought our country close to a global financial meltdown with their brinksmanship on national default, sought to block Obama’s heath care plan without pushing any of their own alternatives and refuse to allow Congress to vote on Obama’s jobs bill — even though many of them have supported its components in the past. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–Va.) epitomizes much of this political chicanery.
This afternoon, Cantor is giving a lecture at the Michigan League. Indeed, it is certainly an honor to host a national political leader at the University. More importantly, though, the event should give students insight into Cantor’s radical conservative ideology and willingness to advance it at all costs. In preparation for the event and for the dialogue that will ensue on campus, we offer five vignettes on Cantor’s time in Washington that give insight into his vision, values and priorities.
Our credit downgrade to AA+: While Obama and some Republican leaders sought a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion and place our country on a fiscally sustainable path, Cantor undermined the bipartisan negotiations by refusing to compromise on his extreme anti-tax ideology. His willingness to risk national default for partisan gain proved frightening; Standard & Poor’s cited political dysfunction as a primary reason for our credit downgrade.
Interfering with disaster aid: When tornadoes, floods and hurricanes devastated communities across the country, Cantor tried to make emergency assistance contingent on cuts elsewhere in the budget. It says something about Cantor’s priorities when families that have lost their homes and livelihoods must wait for assistance until House Republicans have finished their Washington-style bickering.
Comments about Occupy Wall Street: Cantor recently referred to the movement as “growing mobs” and accused its supporters of “pitting Americans against Americans.” As a Tea Party favorite who ought to understand grassroots activism, it is particularly disappointing that Cantor would respond to legitimate concerns about economic inequality in this country with little more than name-calling and allegations of class warfare.
Ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff: Cantor accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his affiliates. In 2006, after the scope of Abramoff’s corruption became public (including his seeming efforts to influence public officials with campaign contributions, overseas golf trips and expensive gifts), Cantor gave about $10,000 of Abramoff-related money to charity.
Taxpayer-funded self-promotion: Cantor is producing a series of new flashy videos, known as “Snapshot of the Leader,” for his government website. While the videos are certainly artsy, they offer nothing in the way of substantive policy information that would further democratic discourse. For someone bent on cutting programs to reduce government spending, this video series would seem like a good place to start.
Cantor’s lecture today will be a fine opportunity for the University community to engage in productive dialogue with an influential political leader. As the seemingly intractable gridlock continues in Washington, though, students should remember that Cantor deserves a great deal of credit for the refusals to compromise, excessive partisanship and ties to special interests that have characterized politics over the past two years and have left so many Americans frustrated with a system that seems to disregard their interests.
Joe Sandman is a Ford School of Public Policy senior. This viewpoint was written on behalf of the College Democrats.