Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Which I Have Unkind Words About Eric Cantor

I was busy with answering questions and trying to figure out the McConnell plan yesterday, and I completely missed a very smart post from Matt Yglesias about Eric Cantor. It seems that Cantor has been going around with a slide show claiming that Barack Obama had agreed to spending cuts negotiated during the Biden sessions, although in fact those cuts were predicated (for Obama) on tax increases that Cantor, famously, rejected so strongly that he ended the sessions over them. Yglesias makes an excellent point:
[T]his kind of partial leaking of the contents of negotiations has the tendency to poison the atmosphere. The whole reason that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to” is that to reach a bargain you need to have a pretty open and flexible discussion. If everyone in the room knows that Cantor has no compunction about misrepresenting every discussion as an agreement, it merely makes it that much harder for people to negotiate in a serious way.
Certainly correct. But it's worse than that! Basing public talking points on a misrepresentation of private bargaining certainly does make it a lot harder to negotiate properly. But what's even worse is that these slides were apparently used to brief Republican Members of the House on the status of the budget talks.

If that's the case...

I'm struggling to find strong enough words for just how irresponsibly Cantor is acting. Massively irresponsible? Unthinkably irresponsible? Newt-level irresponsible?

I mean, first of all, he's their representative at these budget talks. He's supposed to accurately report to the rank-and-file Members what's really going on. Not a talking points version of it.

But on top of that...look, one of the great things about the US -- and I mean this quite sincerely -- is that any yutz can wind up a Member of Congress, and that, at the same time, individual Members of Congress are actually fairly influential. On the first half of that...there are general career paths, but lots of Members come from other places; there's certainly no School for Politicians and the Governing Class that large chunks of Congress come from. And on the second half of it, as I never tire of saying, the US has a transformative Congress in which individual legislators really do have influence. Granted, less in the House than in the Senate, but still -- this isn't a Parliament where a Government is chosen and the rest of the MPs do little of importance other than retain the right to defect and topple their party leaders. But what all that means is that regardless of ideology, many Members of Congress show up without knowing really basic stuff. That's okay -- but if their party leaders insist on (falsely) confirming that whatever yahoo junk they were electing "knowing" is actually true, then they are going to still believe those things. And as I think Bill James said once, the Good Lord may fail at many things, but He's very good about punishing those who believe and act on the basis of things that Are Not So.*

It wouldn't be surprising if many Members of the large Class of '11 just didn't know very much about the debt limit -- in particular, didn't realize that not raising it really would risk, and eventually surely cause, an economic cataclysm; and, politically, that eventually, one way or another, it was going to go up. To be charitable to them...that's not a consequence of ideology or anything; it's just that there's no particular reason for House candidates to know obscure budget stuff. It's a disgrace, however, if House leaders played to that ignorance, instead of replacing it with knowledge. You know, factual knowledge. The kind that's actually true.

And that goes, as well, to giving them an honest view of what's happening in top-level negotiations.

*Reminding me of two things -- I really wish the Abstracts were indexed, although it wouldn't help in this instance. And, my memory is subject to my very favorite of Polsby's Laws: Famous Words Migrate into Famous Mouths.


  1. So, when you compared my fantasy baseball negotiation tactics to those of Cantor, you were meaning me great insult?

  2. This is right on the money. I tried to explain to my freshman representative (Duffy), in a town hall meeting, that his party was lying to him on health care, and I challenged him to search for evidence of it for himself. Unfortunately, in my debate with him, it became clear that he was fairly genuine in his beliefs, and that his beliefs were based upon the lies of his party leaders.

    I really don't think most Reps are going to be able to stand up and question the leaders the way they need to in order to get accurate information. It goes to show that most Reps are just pawns for their party leaders, and the party leaders consist of the rich and the pawns of the rich.

  3. "I really don't think most Reps are going to be able to stand up and question the leaders the way they need to in order to get accurate information"

    I think that this trait is baked into the GOP DNA; there is a tendency to follow chain of command, and to submit to authority. It is why they are more strongly attracted to things like the Military, and to Religion.

    This does allow for more organized and disciplined behavior (good), but it does turn off the capacity for independent thought (bad). They can follow a guy like W deep into a rathole, and then, suddenly they act like some evil force destroyed the country when they weren't looking. Amusing stuff.

  4. Please explain. I am curious how Mr. Bernstein knows whether the slides presented by Rep. Eric Cantor are misrepresentations, partial or inaccurate information. I do not represent any particular political point of view but just asking a question: was Mr. Bernstein in the room during the negotiations and therefore witnessed first hand these misrepresentations or this is his spin of the reported news which he happened to disagree with?

  5. @Anonymous: Everyone involved--Democrat and Republican--agrees that the Democrats were demanding revenue increases (also known as "tax hikes") in exchange for this deal. That's why Cantor walked out in the first place. If Cantor is now presenting the cuts Biden offered, but not the tax hike demands he made, he's presenting a one-sided and thus dishonest version.

  6. I'm struggling to find strong enough words for just how irresponsibly Cantor is acting. Massively irresponsible? Unthinkably irresponsible? Newt-level irresponsible?

    In the spirit of this momentous Harry Potter weekend, let me help you. He's being "Wormtail" level irresponsible.


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