Jonathan Chait

Eric Cantor (Almost) Admits His True Ideology

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This week, Republican House Whip Eric Cantor appeared on the Daily Show. An interesting and (relatively) honest moment occured, at about 4:35, when Stewart asked Cantor to define his party's philosophy. Cantor began by talking about immigrants who came to America and worked their way up, and then wound up to this point:

That’s what America’s about. It’s about providing an even playing field for opportunity, not the government sitting here saying, ‘This person here’s too successful, this one’s not, I’m gonna take from this one and give to that one.’ That’s the principle. It’s earned success.

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That is indeed the heart of what Republicans believe. They believe that all success is earned success. They do not believe that luck or life circumstance play an important part in economic success. They believe that wealth and poverty are essentially moral categories, interchangeable with "hard work" and "sloth." They decry government, but they don't really oppose government per se. They oppose those government functions that transfer resources from the rich to the non-rich.

It's rare for Republicans to come out and say this -- and Cantor hints at it but does not quite do so explicitly. The core of the Republican agenda is to reduce the progressivity of the tax code. Now, progressive taxation is highly popular, so Republicans invariably cast their opposition to progressive taxation as an effort to spur growth or starve spending. But the reason Republicans stick to these policies so doggedly even when the rationales for them are repeatedly proven false is that those rationales are not the real reason. The real reason is that they think it's fundamentally, deeply unfair for rich people to bear the cost of helping the non-rich.

Stewart, in the interview, asks Cantor why he claims to oppose government even though he has supported any number of laws that increase government's power. The answer is that decreasing government per se is not Cantor's goal. Republcians have a very poor record of doing this. He wants to decrease the degree to which government burdens the rich. That's something that Republicans have a clear and consistent record of doing.

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