Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spoke last Monday at the University of Michigan at an event sponsored by the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy. You would think that if you knew you were speaking in front of people who studied public policy for a living you would at least pretend take the subject seriously. But not Cantor. He gave a cliche-laden lecture about how, in this country, everyone has the chance to climb up the ladder of success and that the best way for people at the top to help those below who are struggling is to give them a “hand up” not a handout.
He never really got around to specifying what a hand up was, in terms of policy, but what he emphasized was that people at the top of the ladder economically shouldn’t be penalized for their success. “Redistribution of wealth is the worst thing,” he said.” It never works.” He said the basis upon which America was founded and thrives is “providing people with equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.” He said that the ladder of success in America is not built not in Washington but “by hard work, responsibility and the initiative of the people of our country.” He explained that what happened in America, referring to the economic crisis, is that “politicians and people want to demonize people who have success.”
Now I’m sure this kind of stuff would pass as policy at a Tea Party rally or maybe even at the Republican fundraiser he would be attending later that night in Bloomfield Hills, but the crowd wasn’t impressed.In the overflow room, where I was watching his performance onscreen, people were snickering. He continued, saying that people are moving up the ladder(of success) but just not moving up fast enough; that what poor people need is just a little more stability. “Stability plus agility equals mobility,” he said. The audience cracked up. And when he finished his presentation, there were boos. Cantor looked decidedly uncomfortable.
During the question and answer period the questions from the audience were much more more focused than the speech. One man referred to a recent report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that ranked the U.S. ranked 28th (out of 31) in a list of industrialized nations in income equality and at the bottom of the list in social justice. He pointed out that American Dream is alive and well — in Scandinavia –which ranked at the top of the list in those categories– and the audience burst into applause. Then a woman asked Cantor how he reconciled his support of states rights with his support of the Defense of Marriage Act? –More applause.– “I just believe in traditional marriage, between a man and a woman,” he responded, this time to boos and catcalls. He said it was obviously a very controversial subject but that it was something he believed in and that a lot of other people did too. “I’m gay, not in my family,” someone shouted back. Another questioner pointed out that when Republicans were in power they tripled the debt and asked why should we trust them. Cantor began to say it’s not about blaming but someone yelled out, “We don’t trust you.”
The Michigan Daily reported that protesters who had tickets to the event, which was open to the public, stood with there backs to Cantor as he spoke. Cantor had canceled a speech at Wharton earlier in the month when he found out that his speech there would be open to the public. I’m sure he regretted his decision to come to Ann Arbor. Why take the abuse? The real tragedy though, is the abuse taken by millions of people across the nation who are without jobs, losing their homes and slipping into poverty, who thought they elected representatives to go to Washington to do something and find, instead, that all they do is give speeches.
p.s. If someone can help, I have a nice photo of an Occupy Ann Arbor protester outside of the Cantor speech but I can’t figure out how to post it here.