Political Animal


February 05, 2013 3:19 PM Cantor’s Big Speech: Small, Greasy Nuggets of Policy

By Ed Kilgore

The latest of the many Big Speeches delivered by Republicans aimed at changing the party’s image without changing its ideology was delivered today by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of VA in the friendly confines of the American Enterprise Institute. So important was this speech, it seems, that Republicans accused the president of trying to “step on it” via remarks at roughly the same time on how the administration proposed to avoid the pending March 1 appropriations sequester.

Cantor’s Big Speech was officially advertised as a “rebranding” of the GOP into a nice, positive, friendly band of pols who just want to help middle-class Americans improve their daily lives. And according to National Review’s Robert Costa, what would make the speech especially interesting was that it would focus on policies, not just rhetoric.

Well, you can read Cantor’s prepared remarks yourself. It certainly does avoid the usual harsh War For Civilization rhetoric usually employed by House Republicans of late. It issues no ultimatums and threatens no revolutions. But after three eye-glazing readings, my main question was: Is this all you got, Eric? Nestled in an endless series of soft-focus rhetorical gestures and “real people” shout-outs, the speech was the policy equivalent of a side order of chicken nuggets: small, greasy, and not very nourishing.

By my rough count, you had to plow through twenty-seven (27) paragraphs before coming to anything that resembled an actual policy proposal. That turned out to be a laboriously explained yet not terribly clear endorsement of the “back-pack” K-12 education voucher—e.g., use of federal funds for non-accountable (except by the parents getting the money) use in private schools. Also on the education front was a ringing endorsement of better information for students entering higher education institutions, and maybe a tilt in student loan programs to create an incentive to graduate.

Readers reeling from all this policy boldness could move on to the same endorsement of “reform” in fragmented job training programs that people in both parties have been calling for ever since Dan Quayle was bragging about the Job Training Partnership Act. There was plea for the ancient conservative chestnut of letting hourly employees convert overtime pay to some sort of comp-time, without any clarity on the question of whether and on what terms employers could require it.

But wait: Cantor also came out for reducing loopholes in the tax system! And at the same time he endorsed the child tax credit that’s been in the code since the 1990s.

On the health care front, Cantor made the usual negative assertions about Obamacare, without a hint of any alternative GOP proposal for dealing with the uninsured. He offered the dazzlingly original argument that the states should be given more flexibility in administering Medicaid. And he seemed to be arguing for a return to some sort of Medicare Advantage program encouraging seniors to buy private health insurance.

And oh yeah, bravely taking the bull by the horns, Cantor waded into the immigration controversy by generally endorsing more visas for the highly qualified, and a path to citizenship for children brought into the country without documents—which are, of course, the least contentious issue in the entire debate.

I may have missed a morsel or two scattered amongst the anecdotes and bromides. But there couldn’t have been much. If Republicans are actually proud of this essay in policy minimalism—delivered at a think tank, no less!—then they are further away from any real reinvention of themselves than even hostile observers like me thought possible.

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.


  • Richard W. Crews on February 05, 2013 3:31 PM:

    I know I'm not the first with this idea - and I don't think we should make a big deal out of this - but when the Dems run a White person for Prez, it will be a wipeout for the Reps!

  • Josef K on February 05, 2013 3:32 PM:

    they are further away from any real reinvention of themselves than even hostile observers like me thought possible

    This is what comes from setting the proverbial bar two inches from the ground and claiming its at Olympiad heights. The GOP is so deluded by their own mythologies they can't function properly anymore, and any "reinvention" will just ressemble Victor Frankenstein's creation (albeit without the latter's intelligence and morality).

  • c u n d gulag on February 05, 2013 3:39 PM:

    Yes, how DARE the President speak at the same time as their Congresscritter, Eric Cantor!

    I'm really starting to suspect that Obama's now trolling the Conservatives, just for sh*ts and giggles.

    I mean, he's taken up all of their sports, just to piss them off.

    Ok, he wasn't much of a bowler, but he knew better than to shot-put the ball at the pins. Why do that? To piss-off the Conservative Bubba's.
    The "Brother" plays golf. Why golf? To piss-off the Conservative rich, and the not-rich but wannabe rich by playing the richie-rich's sport of choice.

    And now, heís out there, skeet-shooting.

    You can't get any 'whiter' than the sporting trifecta of bowling, golf, and skeet-shooting, can you?

    What's next?
    He canít do tennis - the great Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, and the Williams sisters, have already covered that ground.
    Nah... Too Canadian.
    Curling? Nope. Ditto.
    Letís see what sport heís going to take up next to piss off Conservative America. My bet is, ice-fishing.
    No! BASS fishing!!!

    And now, I suspect he's feckin' wid 'em by scheduling a presser at the same time as one of their shrill third-rate hack politicians is out there desperately trying to put some rebranding lipstick on his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic pig of a party.

    GOP: Don't look now - but I think Obama is MOCKING you!!!


  • Ronald on February 05, 2013 4:02 PM:

    Pink slime is pink slime- calling it 'lean finely textured beef (LFTB)' isn't going to change what it is made up of.

    But then 'spare beef trimmings and fat that have been treated with ammonium hydroxide' seems to define the Republican platform as well as anything else.

  • marty on February 05, 2013 4:08 PM:

    "Cantorís Big Speech was officially advertised as a ďrebrandingĒ of the GOP into a nice, positive, friendly band of pols who just want to help middle-class Americans improve their daily lives."

    And if you've been alive long enough (or can read some history) you already know what a steaming pile of horse manure this is.

    The ENTIRE history of the Republicans has been to oppose any and all policies that would, you know....actually improve the condition of middle class people.

    This is so ridiculous an idea - it may not even fool the FOX News watchers....

  • DanG on February 05, 2013 4:25 PM:

    It's amazing how long that "comp time" in place of overtime proposal has been made without even a nod to the fact that time off is only allowed with the employer's approval. Comp time can be great, but it's like frequent flyer miles; only if the time you want off works for your boss do you get to take it when you want it. It's almost as though the Republicans have never actually worked in a job in real life.

  • gregor on February 05, 2013 4:29 PM:

    Original Canotor's and GOP Principle: Eat the poor.

    Rebranded policy: add some ketchup with that.

  • R on February 05, 2013 4:55 PM:

    I count the "encouraging seniors to buy private health insurance" as yet another repugnant Republican idea that's disproportionately hard on women because (1) women live longer, on average; and (2) family members caring for seniors are more likely to be women. Anyone who has actually been in the maze of Medicare Part D knows what a disastrous idea this is. One has to choose among a bunch of plans with incomplete information, commit to one, and then watch helplessly as the terms change. Add the possibility of early dementia and you can see why Medicare D is a gift to the insurance companies, as would whatever it is that Cantor is cooking up.

  • Marc on February 06, 2013 7:37 AM:

    Gee the sensitive Repubs have had their feelings hurt again! When will that black man stop all this aggression?

    Oh, and hasn't Eric got that Double Speak down pat. It is nice to know that he read something other than Atlas Shrugged.

  • paul on February 06, 2013 8:14 AM:

    What Dan G said about "comp time". The jobs where I got it, comp time tended to be along the lines of "this weekend I'll only come in one day."

    It's particularly useful for companies that have a policy of expiring unused time off after a year.

    Perhaps I might go for it when wage theft starts being treated the same as embezzlement.

  • zandru on February 06, 2013 10:45 AM:

    @Dan G and paul on Candid Cantor's plan to let workers convert their overtime hours to "comp time":

    In addition, if one's contract says he can 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.

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