Political Animal


February 06, 2013 8:48 AM Bad Speech Poorly Delivered

By Ed Kilgore

I wrote at some length yesterday about House Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s Great Big Speech at AEI and its astonishing lack of originality. What I didn’t know, since I was working from Cantor’s prepared text, was that his delivery sucked, too. Here’s WaPo’s Dana Milbank on his own underwhelmed reaction:

Republicans have happened upon a felicitous new strategy for reviving their party from its depressed state: They need only think happy thoughts….
In other words, Republicans will win elections if only they can stop being so dour, dammit.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took this don’t­worry-be-happy strategy seriously, and in a heavily promoted “major” speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday afternoon, he let the sun shine in.
He began with an uplifting anecdote about the Wright brothers and quoted the inspirational words of Emma Lazarus. He spoke from a lectern decorated with a foam board carrying the slogan “Making life work for more people” and brought with him some everyday folks to illustrate his upbeat philosophy, including an African American father who found a better education for his children and a girl doing well in her battle with cancer….
But the sunny routine was a difficult one for Cantor, who has made a career in Washington of being testy and acidic. His delivery was forced and, as he read his text, he seemed to be reminding himself to grin. As a result, he scowled for much of the speech and sounded as though he were spitting out his words. Smiles formed at inopportune times, such as when he described a boy’s failure in public school.
When it came to what his party would do to make people so buoyant and uplifted, Cantor had little beyond the policies he and his colleagues have long offered.

None of this would have much mattered if Cantor hadn’t oversold his speech as such a very big deal in the history of his party, and if his party hadn’t already heard similarly empty “rebranding” speeches practically from the moment the 2012 election was lost. As Milbank says:

In recent weeks, Republican leaders such as Cantor have resembled nothing so much as laundry detergent salesmen, figuring if they can simply rebrand their product (High Efficiency 2x Ultra Stainlifter Clean Breeze Concentrated Fresh!) Americans will buy what they’re selling. Omitted from consideration is the possibility that consumers don’t like what’s in the bottle.

DailyKos’ Joan McCarter put it more colorfully, calling Cantor’s speech the “fourth or fifth slathering of lipstick in recent months on his porcine party.”

If you have the time and stamina, you can judge for yourself:

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Robert on February 06, 2013 9:12 AM:

    Sorry...I couldn't watch this puke...too early in the morning to kick the tv...

  • boatboy_srq on February 06, 2013 9:14 AM:

    Smiles formed at inopportune times, such as when he described a boy’s failure in public school.

    Cantor seems best suited to play a bad guy in a Lemony Snicket story. OTOH, his wife's tell-all exposé should be quite the page-turner if his sadism is this overt.

  • bh on February 06, 2013 9:26 AM:

    Notice that it's #MakingLifeWork, hashtag-style. So the Republican cargo cult fixation with Twitter continues.

    We *get* Twitter guys! We really really get it!

  • Oh my on February 06, 2013 9:38 AM:

    I love the part @ 21:30 how Congress can "make life work for more people" by giving hourly employees flex-time instead of over-time in the private sector. Canyor's logic: If salaried employees can work 48 hours one week to take a day off the following week, it just isn't "fair" that a minimum wage hourly worker can't be afforded the same "benefit". Hourly workers hate working 70 hours a week and getting paid overtime instead of their beloved normal wage. Obviously, overtime pay is hurting workers ability to spend time with their families and that's the kind of commonsense fix that Congress should agree to address in a bipartisan way.

    Yikes, what were Republicans smoking on their recent "retreat"? I'm picturing a smoke filled room and someone piping up, "dude,dude, tell them overtime pay actually hurts them! Dude, it like, takes them away from their families! If they were free to work 80 hours a week for the same pay they would totally spend more time with the kids."

    If this is what Republicanism gussied up for the next election cycle looks like, I'm going to be sleeping a lot better.

  • Peter C on February 06, 2013 9:38 AM:

    Compassionate Conservatism has always been a fraud. The real face of the Republicans when it comes to helping the poor has always been Ayn Rand. They talk about 'a thousand points of light', but what they really think when they tour the emergency hurrican shelters set up in the Astro Dome is "any so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivleged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them."

  • MiMom on February 06, 2013 9:43 AM:

    His sign is wrong it should say:

    Make work life for more people.

    as you try and string together 2-3-4 part time jobs to keep the roof over your head.

  • c u n d gulag on February 06, 2013 9:51 AM:

    If the weight of the lipstick exceed the weight of the pig, you're probably having some problems.

    Poor Republicans, so happy to have the Tea when it stayed in the bag for the party.

    And now, they have no idea of what to do with their loose Tea.

    They need their base. And yet, their racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic, base is what's holding the party from progressing, since they always have to look to appease that base, lest it 'go rogue.'

    Well, schmucks, you brewed that Tea.
    Now, drink every last drop down, and gag on your own special brand of bitter Tea.

  • maria on February 06, 2013 9:52 AM:

    i don't even bother in listen to this people for me that are speaking Japanese, we don't understand them and they don't show confidence.

    they have to learn with the president of america mr. Barack Obama

  • Kathryn on February 06, 2013 10:29 AM:

    He's not even a competent snake oil salesman. Just read Dana Milbank column, Cantor's non answers to relatively direct questioning by assembled press while not unexpected was just plain sad. The Republican Party is a flat out menace to a functioning society.

    I just read the straight news story in Wapo about the Cantor speech, typically vague , the only useful part stated that a fiscal course correction was prescribed by the Republicans after the "explosion of spending that occurred when Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress". Also believe that Cantor's brilliant idea to give hourly folks time off rather than the money earned for overtime is not clearly stated. Anybody who happens to know an hourly worker, not these swells, knows that it's the money they need, that's why they are killing themselves.

  • James M on February 06, 2013 10:34 AM:

    I agree with the commenters above but we shouldn't make too much fun of Mr. Cantor. Joe Scarborough is pushing for 'competent' conservative candidates: i.e., politicians who have deeply conservative views that don't make controversial remarks that scare off moderates and independents.

    A 'dressed up pig' is still dressed up, and we could have real problems if the Tea Party candidates learn how to hide their true beliefs and policies. Remember that Todd Akin would be the senator from Missouri if he just hadn't expressed his true beliefs in that infamous comment.

  • schtick on February 06, 2013 10:54 AM:

    Cantor would do better if his writers, or maybe even he, quit stealing Obama's speeches. And word for word at that.

  • zandru on February 06, 2013 11:02 AM:

    More on Candid Cantor's plan to let workers convert their overtime hours to "comp time":

    If one's contract says he must be paid time and a half (that's 1.5 x regular wage) or more for OVERTIME, then getting time off for merely the number of overtime hours worked - WITHOUT PAY - is, quite frankly, insane. Although it's a sweetheart deal for the employer...

    And believe me, even a minimum-wage employee can figure that one out.

  • MuddyLee on February 06, 2013 11:06 AM:

    Is there ANY major republican in Congress now who isn't just a mean or stupid SOB? Cantor, McConnell, McCain, Graham, Boehner, Ryan, Rand Paul, Mulvaney (he's not major but he is a disciple of Ayn Rand and he replaced a pretty good democrat named John Spratt), Bachmann....what a crew.

  • JM917 on February 06, 2013 12:23 PM:

    Every time the Congressional GOP leadership gathers to make a public statement, the visuals (and audibles) remind me of a ritual assembly--all scripted and all in rank-ordered hierarchies--of Chinese, North Korean, or old Soviet politburos.

  • Roger Keeling on February 06, 2013 12:26 PM:

    Oh, how soon we forget!

    Growing up in the 1960s, I read more than once that the Great Depression got its name from none other than Herbert Hoover. Maybe the story is more myth than real, but I came to understand that the enormous recession that rolled over the nation in October, 1929 wasn't called a "Depression" until Hoover and other Republicans kept insisting that it all had more to do with the public's attitude than anything else. Everyone was just "depressed," but if they'd let their inner optimism shine forth -- Americans were habitually optimistic, right? -- then the economy would magically get better. Optimists, after all, happily invest and spend money and do all the other things that ultimately produces a vibrant economy.

    Again, I don't know if any of that story was true. But it was believed (including by me) since it appeared here and there in popular histories and the like.

    Sounds like Cantor has dusted off the Hoover myth for his own guidance and use.

  • Roger Keeling on February 06, 2013 12:32 PM:

    Oops, I should clarify my comment above: I was just saying that it strikes me that Cantor's tactic parallels Hoover's. The specifics (responding to a Republican-caused massive recession v. promoting current GOP dogmas) are obviously quite different.

  • T2 on February 06, 2013 12:53 PM:

    Cantor is not a likable person, his general demeanor is that of the guy who does the firing at a corporation. And that's the GOP problem....they just don't have any suitable spokesman to trick the normal public into screwing themselves by buying what the GOP is selling. Ryan auditioned as frontman when he was candidate for VP and failed miserably and the Old Guard don't have a clue. They are going to need one hell of a salesman, and a certain guy that weighs 400 lbs ain't it.

  • exlibra on February 06, 2013 1:47 PM:

    "Smiles formed at inopportune times, such as when he described a boy’s failure in public school." -- Dana Milbank

    Um, no. That -- a child's failure in a *public* school -- was the only thing that gave Cantor enough pleasure to produce a heartfelt, shit-eating grin. From his POV, it was not an "inopportune time" to smile; it was perfect.

  • JM917 on February 06, 2013 4:15 PM:

    @ Roger Keeling:

    You're right. The Hoover administration coined the word "Depression" as a more optimistic alternative to the old term for such events: Panic (as in "Panic of 1819," "Panic of 1837," and "Panic of 1893").

    After the Hoover Depression, the preferred name for an economic downturn became "Recession"--except for when the Eisenhower Administration tried (to hoots of derision) to brand a slowdown on its watch a "Rolling Readjustment."

    Ever since the 1930s, Econ 101 textbooks have tried to draw analytical distinctions between "recessions" and "depressions."

    So now we have "the Great Recession."

    Personally, I'd like to revive good old "Panic"--especially when it coincides with the ascendancy of people like Hoover, Bush, Cheney, and Cantor.

  • Roger Keeling on February 10, 2013 4:45 PM:

    Hi JM917, and thanks for the background info. Obviously I was versed in the story, but only poorly so. And "Rolling Readjustment," that's a hoot! The bottom line is that for the GOP, it's all about adjusting the pig's lipstick, not on actually confronting the real problems since doing THAT would entail fessing up to rightwing deficiencies.