Earlier this week, Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) was on The Daily Show promoting a new book about how the younger generation of Republicans wants to reform their party and Congress.
Stewart asked the right questions and pushed Cantor enough to provide an excellent illustration of how far the New Radicalism has taken us and also of what still needs to be done to complete the transformation of our government from the monstrosity which it has become to what it was intended to be and what the people want it to be.
After this interview I’m calling this the “The Eric Cantor Effect,” because the degree to which we can influence this misguided but still malleable Republican moderate and bring him around to see what the people want, is a bellweather for the success of the efforts of groups like the tea parties and the Republican Liberty Caucus to use the Republican Party to institute substantive government reforms leading to a return to Constitutionally limited government and real respect for individual liberty.
Cantor has not yet been fully converted, but he seems to be starting to grasp the substance behind the anger of the people and is clearly trying to respond to it. His discussion with Stewart is an interesting illustration of the struggle he is going through. He’s part way there. When we manage to fully inform and transform Congressmen like Cantor who can be influenced, then we will have succeeded.
Stewart: You voted for No Child Left Behind. You voted for REAL ID. You voted for the Medicare bill which is a trillion dollars unfunded. You voted for the PATRIOT Act. In what way are you a limited government…in what way do you want to shrink government. Because your record is clearly not…doesn’t speak to that.
Cantor: John, first of all, I’m here to say we understand we got fired and there was a reason.
Stewart: So you would take all those votes back.
Cantor: I would take all those votes back, but what I can tell you on…
Stewart: You would take most of those votes back.
Cantor: On the REAL ID issue you better believe government’s got a role in making the airways safe.
Stewart: But that’s my point. You pick and choose. When you people say ‘I want smaller government,’ they want smaller government for where they want it to be small. Each political party makes choices for where they want government to be more powerful.
Cantor: They want a Constitutionally limited government and the Constitution is very explicit when it comes to national defense…
Stewart: They would make the case that it’s very explicit about the commerce clause. You can always make that case.
Cantor: I mean, national defense is fairly straightforward. I mean I think the commerce clause is where things have gotten a little vague. There’s been abuse. I mean we were responsible..
Stewart: But in’t there abuse in also the defense industry, in the military industrial complex.
Cantor: Absolutely. Nobody is going to defend every expense going on in the Pentagon for sure. What we’re about in the book is saying ‘accountablity’ You know, that we can’t afford to keep spending money we don’t have and people are fed up.
The highlighting here is mine, and it illustrates the points which Cantor is beginning to understand, a transformation which we hope is also happening in the minds of other Republicans who have not been in office too long and become too corrupt to listen to the people.
Cantor does seem to understand that it’s about limiting government, about restoring adherence to the Constitution, and about reducing spending. He even seems to half understand that cutting defense is a big part of it, but clearly he has some reluctance to accept the full implications of that. He also seems not to get what Stewart clearly does get, which is that intrusions on individual liberty like REAL ID are also a major part of the problem. But he’s come part way. He knows the people are angry and he’s at least accepted some of the reasons. And perhaps most importantly he has admitted fault, repudiated his past behavior and shown a willingness to change. Cantor also seems to realize that there will be accountability in the future. He may not fully understand what that means, but he knows enough to be scared.
With legislators like Cantor starting to see the light, we’ve already made remarkable progress towards reclaiming our government. But despite his 11th hour conversion, relying on him and his “Young Guns” (the title of his book) to make the changes we want is unlikely to be sufficient. They are too tainted already and too prone to backsliding and repeating their past mistakes. They need to be further educated and to be have their feet held to the fire every day until they truly abandon their old ways and become real representatives of the people.
They will play an important role in reclaiming our government, but more important will be the small but determined group of newly elected Congressmen and Senators who will join them after the November election. With no history of corruption and a much more intimate understanding of the demands and anger of the people, they will form a new power block and a new cadre of leaders who may not lead by seniority but will lead with a moral authority which will cause weak reeds like Cantor to bend to their wind.
It’s very good news that Cantor and others like them are seeing and admitting their past errors. They still have miles to go before the people will truly forgive them, and it is essential that in the future they and all elected officials be held accountable and be reminded that they serve the people of this nation and not just the special interests and insider power cliques which have led them astray in the past.