Eric Cantor’s Self-Serving Nonsense

So Cantor gave his aforementioned big speech yesterday, the one about turning the GOP into an expansively inclusive party of multiple ethnicities and income brackets, and MSNBC was there to tell the tale. Their description is curious, however, in that they seem to think Cantor’s goal is to disassociate his party from its current image of being a bunch of penny-pinching budget obsessives:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sought to lead Republicans past their dollars-and-cents fights of the last two years, arguing Tuesday for a more expansive agenda that resonates with a broader scope of Americans.

As the GOP works to redefine itself in the wake of an electoral drubbing last fall, Cantor outlined a series of policies he said Republicans would pursue over the next two years. The agenda includes staples of Republican politics — tax and entitlement reforms, for instance — but also education, immigration and research and development, particularly in the sciences.

“In Washington, over the past few weeks and months, our attention has been on cliffs, debt ceilings and budgets, on deadlines and negotiations,” Cantor said at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington. “But today, I’d like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates. Over the next two years, the House majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families.”

The speech fits squarely within the rubric of reinvention sought by the GOP at the advent of President Barack Obama’s second term. The Virginia congressman offered generally familiar proposals, couched in the rhetoric of middle class advancement. This “softer” approach to policy-making squares with an emerging Republican consensus that the party does not necessarily need to change its policies so much as frame them in a way that is more relevant to middle class, minority, and women voters.

In case anyone was wondering whether the GOP reboot was anything more than a cynical attempt to spit-shine the party into something that can win a national election without cheating — consider yourself free from uncertainty! The flimsiness of the Cantor rehab is such that even those Republicans with a vested interest in persuading you otherwise are happy to call it like it is.

Well, OK, I guess. I’m not much of a moderate, much less a conservative — so it’s not like I particularly want Republicans to fix what’s ailing them. To some degree I do, of course, because we live in a two-party system that has more than enough veto points for a batshit minority to exploit to the nation’s detriment. We’ve seen what that looks like. It’s not fun. But beyond abstract concerns for constitutional governance, I’d be quite happy if a Republican (as the term is currently understood) never even caught a faint whiff of 1600’s potpourri.

If I were a conservative, though, and one who didn’t think Newt Gingrich stood as an exemplar of right-thinking gravitas, Cantor’s nonsense would really piss me off. Because at heart what Cantor and his supporters are saying is that they’ve done nothing wrong. There’s an implicit acceptance of blame, I suppose, in saying that the party’s “framing” has been askew; but “framing” is contracted out to PR shops and sundry other yarn-spinners. So their admission of guilt only goes so far as to say, We weren’t quick enough to stop all those other people from F’ing up.

What’s more, the framing (there’s that word again!) MSNBC transmits — the idea of the GOP moving on from its single-minded focus on fiscal issues — is bizarre and, I’d say, only believable if one wants to believe it. Does anyone really think that the party that’s suffered Sarah Palin, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Steve King, and on and on and on; are we really to believe that these pols went over with the American public about as well as a Lance Armstrong interview because they were too diligent in their focus on dollars and cents?

I’m sure many do, actually; but these people are Republicans or Republican apologists. They’re repackaging Paul Ryan’s self-spun myth of the accountant-in-chief by attempting to push its boundaries far enough that they’ll encircle the entire party. I suspect this tactic will work about as well as the time I tried to fix a broken R key on my Macbook with copious amounts of superglue and half-muttered invective.

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19 thoughts on “Eric Cantor’s Self-Serving Nonsense

  1. Well, messaging is the first step right? Suppose they messaged what they did differently. By messaging what they did differently, they would allow policy differences to occur in different dimensions than are currently occuring. I’m not expressing this very well.

    The idea is that for any given narrative, a different set of policies will be within reasonable deviations of the party line. As an example, let’s suppose that I am a hardcore libertarian and I sell my preferred policies as just what is owed to us in virtue of our natural property rights. So, taxation is slavery! Regulations are nanny statist paternalism! If I give that messaging, I cannot credibly allow any kind of deviation. But supposed I messaged differently: Medallion systems hurt poor minority taxi drivers. Medallion systems drive up taxi fares and hurt customers many of whom are too poor to afford a car. Barber shop licensures hurt hair dressers many of whom are minorities, and drive up costs which hurt working and middle class people. Hair dressers should be for everyone, not just the rich!

    I still have pretty much the same policies, but start attracting more moderate guys as well. Hell even Matt Yglesias may want to sign up! Of course, by having a softer message, this does allow the party to bring in people who are comparatively more pragmatic on some issues. Maybe voters will not drop me just because I support a second best proposal.

    Once you soften the messaging, if you wish to stay on message, it is going to be harder to not allow for some pragmatism to creep into the party

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    • For messages to be believed, the messenger must be trusted — or at least have no reason to be distrusted. It would have been better for another herald to have borne this message: Cantor is a known quantity.

      It takes two characters in Japanese (well, there are many ways to write it) to convey the meaning of honesty or frankness, Shinsotsu. The first is Shin, truth. The second is Ritsu, to rate or compare.

      But there’s another way of writing it, Seii, again two glyphs, Makoto, truth in terms of faithfulness and devotion, especially to unpleasant facts and such, the sort of truthfulness required in a relationship. The second is I or Kokoro, intent, conviction, what we really want. Heart, if you will.

      Cantor cannot be believed. It’s clear his heart isn’t in this.

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  2. One of the issue here, I think, is that in the world of effective PR messaging, messaging itself often has to don the role of public villain.

    It’s quite possible (and, I think, likely) that the GOP establishment is well aware of the need to makes some difficult and substantive changes to be more competitive nationally. Unfortunately, they work in an industry where short-term victories are necessary for getting back on track in the long-term. This means you cannot lead with the message:

    “Boy, you know all those things we argued over the past couple of years with such end-of-the-world veracity? Yeah, funny thing… we were totally wrong. WAY off the mark. Didn’t have a clue, really.

    Hey! You know what you should do? You should totally vote for us!”

    Even if you’re going to make some very fundamental changes (as I think the GOP would be wise to do), I think you’re forced to announce that you were of course 100% correct all along, but because of your own bad wording it just sounded like you were on the wrong side of history.

    “Wait – you thought we liked to demonize the fine people who risk all to come to this country to help build our economy? Oh, man, we must have really fished the wording up there, because we’ve always loved and embraced our south of the border brothers and sisters. We’ve been fighting for them all along!”

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  3. Okay, I agree that it’s cynical to focus on messaging (god, I hate that neologism!) rather than on ideas. But if they tried to come up with different ideas in line with more moderate voters and abandon their old ideas, wouldn’t we read that as cynical too?

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      • Fair enough. What if the shoe was on the other foot? Imagine the US was going through one of those spells it seems to from time to time where people get really worked up about criminals or immigrants or welfare cheats and the Democrats had to decide whether to tack hard to the right or keep losing elections. I know the obvious punchline here is they do that all the time. But what gambit would you support?

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        • Wouldn’t the analogy be that the Dems kept supporting policies that the country rejected? Not so much that they were refusing to support policies… Maybe it’s a semantic difference.

          But I don’t consider myself a Democrat but rather a liberal, so if Dems did that (and, yes, they did already — see: Clinton, Bill) I’d find it regrettable but necessary and would want Dems to do it as little as possible while still gaining electoral advantage. If Dems were challenging access to voting and the like in service of not changing their policies I’d like to think I’d find it objectionable in the extreme and would say as much.

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          • Maybe it depends on the policies. What I was thinking of was about three or four years ago when everyone was freaking out about ‘illegals’ and the politicians were trying to one-up each other for hardassedness. Now, they’re all talking about paths to citizenship and playing moderate to court the Hispanic voters. When certain issues become highly popular, there are Democrats who will bend over backwards to probe they’re not liberal- see also: the early days of the war on terror. Would a liberal have more respect for the Democrats who tried to come off as hard line then, but have softened since, or for the ones who were always calling for a path to citizenship?

            I’d imagine the question for conservative voters would be on which issues the public has swung permanently leftward and on which ones they’ll probably move back to the right in the future. If the GOP moves too far towards the center for short-term gain, it’s gonna look just as opportunist as if they stay the same but talk a good game.

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    • Isn’t there a non-cynical way for conservatives to appeal to moderate voters? One that doesn’t entail abandoning their old ideas?

      I realize that Republican Ideas and republican ideas are not synonymous, but Eisenhower was a Republican and he warned against the Military Industrial Complex gaining too much influence in Washington and supported investment in national infrastructure as a suitable purpose for government. The GOP could go after corporate subsidies and not come close to being Democrats Lite.

      Granted, this is not at all where Cantor and the GOP as currently configured want to go, but there are all sorts of ways the Republicans could shrink government that wouldn’t involve dismantling social programs that are popular with the middle class.

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      • Good idea. Yeah, I can see that.

        Here’s another one that I thought of recently. I read this thing on No Child Left Behind:
        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/09/a-warning-to-college-profs-from-a-high-school-teacher/?tid=pm_pop

        And I thought, so you’re telling me that the government got involved in trying to micromanage and standardize an important part of people’s lives and they completely mucked it up and made a lot of people miserable? That sounds like a perfect issue for the GOP to take a stand on based squarely in conservative, anti-big government thinking. Admittedly, that would mean they’d have to repudiate George W. Bush in the process, but it would be an important stand for them to take.

        Another important stand for them to take? Repudiating George W. Bush.

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        • I think it’s widely held that the way out of the wilderness for the GOP would involve the repudiation of George W. Bush at a bare minimum. That would likely be enough to win national elections again.

          However, IMO, for the GOP to present a compelling, conservative vision that would secure the support of the broad swathe in the middle of the electorate for the long term, they will have to shrink all parts of the government (including defense spending and corporate subsidies) and remove the social agenda from front and center. That would mean repudiating Reagan. I’m not holding my breath.

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  4. This “softer” approach to policy-making squares with an emerging Republican consensus that the party does not necessarily need to change its policies so much as frame them in a way that is more relevant to middle class, minority, and women voters.

    Though how do Republican policy positions actually matter?

    If I can get boundless corporatism, endless war, and unlimited executive power from the Democrats, why do I even need to vote for the Republicans, much less send them donations?

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    • This is why you have to talk about stuff like abortion, gay marriage, or gun control.

      Do you want boundless corporatism, endless war, unlimited executive power, and an assault weapons ban or boundless corporatism, endless war, unlimited executive power and no assault weapons ban?

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  5. So, what are those “substantive changes” that the GOP needs to make?

    I thought Cantor’s speech was at least a good start and had more substance than anything said last year. He talked about immigration in the positive sense which is good and he actually seemed to talk about people who were actually not doing well in this economy. Could it all be just talk? Maybe. We shall see. I still think it was a good speech, but then I’m a Republican.

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    • I’d recommend you check Jon Chait’s response to this:

      What we’ve seen since November is a concerted effort by the Republican Party to leverage both its control of a number of state governments and its gerrymandering of the House map in those states. With the express support of the RNC chairman, and at least cautious initial support by the leading Republican elected officials in the affected states, Republicans floated plans in every GOP-controlled blue state to allocate electoral votes by congressional district. The plan would have the double benefit of splitting a number of blue state electoral votes, while red state electoral votes remain indivisible, and allocating those votes in such a way as to ensure that the GOP’s share of electoral votes from those states vastly outstrips its share of the vote.
      Of those factors I just described, none were present in the 2004 effort to rejigger Colorado. I went back and read everything I could find on the plan on Nexis, and there was no evidence of any elected-level Democratic support for the plan (let alone a national campaign to split up Republican votes wherever possible). The plan seemed to spring from liberal activists and was opposed by Democratic officials. What’s more, it would have allocated the state’s electoral votes proportionally rather than by district — unfair still, but less unfair than the Republican plans to guarantee their candidate wins more electoral votes even in states he could lose.

      Link: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/02/gops-anti-democratic-panic.html

      I would never defend what those activists, for what it’s worth; but the CO example is not sufficient.

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