Eric Cantor is a name that will slip easily into the past, having achieved little on his watch expect his own ambitions, which now will remain forever incomplete. The ladder of success is a two-way passage, and Cantor obviously forgot the Old Testament teachings that, among the many meanings of Jacob’s ladder, is the changing affairs of human community. Tuesday, Cantor’s fates changed; his Congressional career and ambitions perished in a hell of his own making. He wakes up today to find the gates slammed shut on his dreams.
He earned his current infamy. Yet by all accounts, he never saw it coming. That he missed what should have been in plain sight is explained in the text of an old southern African proverb: A blind mule is never afraid of the dark.
Cantor’s blindness begins when he miscalculated the dynamics of his gerrymandered district, which runs from Richmond to the Washington suburbs. His briar patch of safety was filled with thorns and he got stuck, having created many reasons for personal grudges in a district both conservative, educated and middle class–“rich and stupid” is the shorthand I have used to describe it. Conservative, yes. Loyal, no. Reactionary, yes. Racist, yes. Invested in a Koch brothers-writ future? No. Despite Cantor’s loss.
His district, which contains a fair share of federal workers with civil service protected jobs, felt empowered to vote against the political establishment and Cantor, one of its major leaders. They have direct witness of the destructiveness of current politics.
Their paychecks were cut by sequestration, a House deal Cantor bragged he originated; their paychecks were stopped by the House-engineered government shutdown, which Cantor helped enable.
These conservatives saw in Cantor grandstanding and speech-making that brought no progress or stability, that instead attacked their own tenuous hold on what was a secure government lifeline, a civil service job, with college loans at the credit union, and good health care and a generous pension fund. For them, big government mean waste, fraud, and politics; they are anti-establishment, not necessarily anti-government. The unfair sharing of spoils to benefactors they are privy to daily drove them to the cynicism at the base of conservatism.
Their positions are more nuanced than tea party supporters in North Carolina, Georgia or Mississippi. They work in government. They simply want to eliminate what they see as its unfairness, the way the system is rigged to exploit families and workers.
Cantor stood alone, exposed against the backdrop of Washington’s giant machine, but also against the backdrop of the paper work and memorandums that crossed their desks and the themes of their meetings. In every decision, they could see Eric Cantor. Take away the partisanship and he was the establishment.
He wanted his district to overlook how deeply embedded he was in the establishment, but he overlooked the daily remainders they received. Like the repeated (fifty and counting!) meaningless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His smug, annoying arrogance and obvious love of power and partisan political combat didn’t help.
His district remembered he was eager to hold up federal aid after Hurricane Sandy until budget cuts “paid” for the emergency assistance to homeowners who lost everything, to others needed the basics of shelter and food. His district remembered too well that, in their time of desperation, he put the budget first, yet supported continuing tax breaks for corporations imploding with cash. Continue reading Lessons Celebrating Eric Cantor’s Primary Loss