A conservative friend of mine, who remains an avid Herman Cain supporter, recently bemoaned via Twitter, “Conservatives seem to be lost. We throw Cain over the cliff, embrace Newt. Something is wrong.” My response tweet came quickly. “Conservatives aren’t lost. They got mugged by Bush/Cheney and let the Tea Party phonies in the House. It’s tough.” It is also cynical and two-faced, epitomized by the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.
According to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, since the 19th Century the majority leader is the officer “charged with scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party.” The purpose of having such an officer is to “expedite legislative business and to keep their parties united.”
Cantor has done little to expedite legislative business and done even less to keep his party united.
In 2010 the House Majority Leader went about recruiting most of the Tea Party backed freshmen who claim to be conservatives. Although Cantor is attempting humanize his image and present himself as more reasonable, such as the recent fluff piece on 60 Minutes, it does not change the fact that he has lead the obstructionism in the House and fractured its leadership.
Cantor told Politico, “the most important issue facing the people that sent us to Washington, and that is how do we help small businesses create jobs.” That is not what the record shows. Creating jobs has been House Republicans’ last priority. Here is the short version of the 112th Congress’ numbers for their 2011 agenda:
14 Votes to repeal patient health care protections
10 Anti-Consumer votes
7 Votes to keep unnecessary subsidies for Big Oil companies
4 Votes to restrict women’s access to health care
3 Votes to end Medicare
3 Votes to roll back workers’ rights
0 Comprehensive jobs bills
So it should come as no surprise, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with almost two-thirds
saying they “disapprove strongly.” Just 13 percent of Americans approve of how things are going after the 112th Congress’s first year of action, “solidifying an unprecedented level of public disgust that has both sides worried about their positions less than 10 months before voters decide their fates.”
“I think last year showed us where sort of the differences lie between the two sides and hopefully we could use the knowledge gained there to focus on progress that we can make over the next 10 months leading up to the election,” Cantor said in his recent Politico interview. The problem is that during most of those 10 months House members will not be in Washington. They will be at home trying to woo their constituents.
In the latest New York Times-CBS News poll, Mr. Cantor’s party gets the blame for Washington gridlock. Curiously enough, the poll also found that “nearly half of the Republicans surveyed do agree with Democrats and Independents on one thing: Congressional Republicans are not working with the president to make progress on the legislative agenda.”
In GQ Magazine’s “The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington,” Eric Cantor tops the list. GQ questions whether Cantor will wait for the retirement of Speaker of the House John Boehner, ranked number 12, or shove the Ohio Republican out of the way. “The Virginia Congressman masterminded, and then masterfully carried out, the GOP’s strategy of legislative intransigence that has stymied the White House these past three years,” the article says. “In the process, he imposed his will on all of Washington, refashioning the city into a hyperpartisan capital of gridlock.” GQ notes, “People with the last names Obama and Biden not included.”
However, running on such a record could be problematic for Republicans. Just in case the country forgets about the political theatre of last year’s gridlock, the House started off 2012 with a protest vote against raising the debt ceiling. The 239-176 vote suggests that GOP members, especially the Tea Party freshmen, still think that a default on US obligations is an acceptable goal of the Republican Party. It also demonstrates the schism in the party orchestrated by Majority Leader Cantor, who has demonstrated disinterest in party unity.
Such high school political posturing explains why conservatives such as my friend feel somewhat lost. Intransigence and obstructionism are neither conservative nor progressive traits. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson practiced the art of compromise, something presently absent in Washington. They articulated an American ideology and eschewed the bumper sticker rhetoric that poses for it today. But from time to time the country suffers a bad decade. That explains gridlock Eric Cantor’s perceived power, such as it is.