Cantor Intuition

By Beinart, Peter | Newsweek, February 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

Cantor Intuition


Beinart, Peter, Newsweek


Byline: Peter Beinart

The new Clintonian GOP.

What lies between the Republican Party of today and the Republican Party of tomorrow? The Democratic Party of yesterday.

This week House Majority Leader Eric Cantor journeyed to the American Enterprise Institute to unveil a softer, cuddlier GOP. Over the course of his speech, he introduced several real-life folks whom he used as props to illustrate the challenges facing average Americans. As he moved from Joseph to Fiona to Erin, I kept having flashbacks. I remembered Mitt Romney in the first debate doing the same thing, talking about real individuals to counter the perception that he saw them as a whiny, resentful 47 percent mass. And then I remembered that both Cantor and Romney were really imitating Bill Clinton, the master of the ordinary-American maneuver, the undisputed heavyweight champion when it came to feeling your pain.

And that wasn't Cantor's only Clintonian gesture. In his speech, Cantor basically abandoned the core argument of the Obama-era Republican Party: that the federal government is too big and too expensive and is turning America into Greece, or North Korea, or both. Instead Cantor waved away that whole "cutting government" thing in his second paragraph and went on to discuss what Republicans will make government do for you once the "fiscal debates" of the moment are over.

Cantor's vision of what government will do is modest. He proposed requiring colleges to equip "prospective students with reliable information on the unemployment rate and potential earnings by major." (Somewhere Allan Bloom is cursing from the grave, in ancient Greek.) He suggested consolidating the 47 different federal jobs-training programs to "make it easier for Americans who are out of work or who are changing careers to get the skills they need." He called for allowing private-sector employees to "convert previous overtime into future comp time or flextime." He proposed making tax forms simpler. He urged more government funding to "find cures to diseases."

It's enough to make a Clintonite swoon. In the 1990s, with the public suspicious of grand government ventures and government too deep in debt to afford them, Bill Clinton launched microinitiatives like school uniforms and the V-chip. What Clinton was trying to do, in accordance with his vaunted Third Way between the big-government left and the anti-government right, was to find cheap, nonbureaucratic means to help ordinary folks manage life. …

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