Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eric Cantor's legacy

TPM said it best:
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

American politics took a Game of Thrones-worthy plot twist on Tuesday as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary by a 12-point margin to Dave Brat, an underfunded right-wing challenger. ...

From day one — literally, the night of President Obama’s first inauguration — Cantor was leading the charge to not just oppose Obama, but to delegitimize him — denying him the conciliatory, bipartisan policy style he campaigned on, and turning even policy successes into the kind of grueling partisan battles that voters dislike. It was a deeply cynical maneuver, but a successful one. Cantor helped unite the Republican caucus around this scorched-earth strategy, and played a major role in the 2010 campaign that leveraged the grim results of that strategy into a new majority.

In 2011, Cantor became Majority Leader thanks in part to the winning challengers he recruited and funded. In the midst of a still-sputtering economy, he introduced a three-word mantra that would define his now-abruptly-ended time as Majority Leader: “Cut and Grow.” ...

The “Cut and Grow” strategy worked like an anvil works as a life preserver. It dragged down an economy that desperately needed rescue. ...

The 2011 debt-ceiling standoff is the height of Cantorism, a perfect illustration of big angry talk and economically counterproductive results. Republicans began to describe the routine increase in the debt ceiling as a favor to Obama, for which they needed concessions in order to “give” it to him. The debt ceiling is an accounting formality that has catastrophic results if left undone, but in one of the great acts of political spin in the past few years, Cantor called it a “leverage moment” to make President Obama capitulate to the Republican ideological agenda.

The result was a miserable summer of collapsing consumer confidence and slowed job growth. Cantor wouldn’t even stay at the table for the negotiations he forced to happen with his debt-ceiling extortion.

After months of efforts to end the (completely optional) crisis, Congress passed and the President signed the Budget Control Act, which created the pointless “supercommittee” process and eventually led to sequestration, a blunt-instrument package of cuts, including cuts to programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels. Sequestration was terrible policy - It was yet another drag on an economy - and, even after his strategy made it happen, Cantor still complained about the sequester and blamed Obama for it.

If you want to know Eric Cantor’s legacy, it’s not just about the forces that he encouraged and that backfired on him last night. It’s a political style and an ideology that actively set back the economy, time after time. His cynical advocacy of “Cut and Grow” has had real negative consequences.

He tried to ride the tiger into battle, and the tiger ate him. His loss is richly deserved and poetically just, but it comes too late.

Eric Cantor will be fine — he’ll get a lobbying job, board-of-director seats, “visiting fellow” offers at think tanks, Wall Street Journal op-eds, and of course a full Congressional pension. If only the thousands of people whose unemployment came from his policy choices could be so lucky.

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