Eric Cantor's Optimism
The Wall Street Journal - WSJ’s Political Diary
November 2, 2011
President Obama and Democrats are making great hay of the Occupy Wall Street protests, using the movement to highlight their own class-warfare themes. Now House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is pushing back, in the process providing Republicans with one way to reframe the debate.
In two speeches -- one last week at the Kellogg School at Northwestern, and one this week at the University of Michigan -- Mr. Cantor directly addressed the "frustration" felt by so many Americans about today's economic situation. But rather than lay this frustration down to income inequality -- the mantra of OWS and the left -- Mr. Cantor put it down to the lack of economic "opportunity." Government has helped to stifle that opportunity by punishing and demonizing the nation's risk-takers and innovators. That's one reason Americans feel less confident about the future.
Without mentioning Mr. Obama by name, Mr. Cantor took direct aim at the president's language. "There are politicians and others who want to demonize people that have earned success in certain sectors of our society. They claim that these people have now made enough, and haven't paid their fair share," said Mr. Cantor, using one of the president's favorite (fair share) lines. What Washington's elected leaders ought to be doing is making sure everyone in the country has a "fair shot" and the "opportunity to earn success up the ladder." The Democratic philosophy involves "trying to push those at the top down," to use "wealth redistribution" to resettle everyone at "the middle of the ladder."
The better option, said Mr. Cantor, is a society in which "everyone is moving up," in which the "solution to income disparity is increased income mobility." That requires a flourishing business environment in which "risk takers and innovators" are rewarded -- not demonized -- as well as one in which Americans once again feel confident that those "who abuse the rules are punished."
This is as clear an enunciation of differing philosophies as it gets, and one that other Congressional Republicans -- and GOP presidential candidates -- might want to study. Mr. Cantor was greeted at both schools by small phalanxes of protesters, who jeered him as the "top 1%." But the majority leader's speech -- which was quite personal, and drew on his own family history -- seemed to resonate with many of the business-school students in attendance. The real merit of Mr. Cantor's speech was that it was one of optimism and aspiration, a message that always plays far better with the American public than class warfare and anger.