Eric Cantor steps forward with ‘Making Life Work’ speech
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Eric Cantor steps forward with ‘Making Life Work’ speech

Atlanta : GA : USA | Feb 06, 2013 at 4:12 AM PST
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Psychologists have long thought that close, loving bonds make small children more resilient to adult life's trials

Nature abhors a vacuum, especially when true leadership is lacking within our political process.

At some point, an individual will rush into the void, propel his or her personal brand forward by grabbing the spotlight and break apart from the herd. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, appears to have grabbed for this elusive golden ring with a recent policy speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute. His bold title, “Making Life Work,” seemed a grand gesture at rebranding GOP policy positions, but the substance of his remarks fell far short of expectations considering the loftiness of his title selection.

But word selection is important. The GOP has excelled in its ability to sway public opinion with short sound bites designed to create an emotional charge that sticks when the details of their comments usually fall by the wayside. Pollster Frank Luntz has made a career using words as weapons, like a samurai intent on slicing his opponent to shreds. No doubt Luntz, or someone of his genre, helped Cantor choose his ambitious initial phraseology.

According the Ezra Klein, a columnist for The Washington Post, true boldness, however, was lacking. “Cantor’s speech today was about pushing that consensus forward a bit, moving it beyond deficit reduction and toward an agenda that also recognizes the positive role the government can play. But it was also a speech that showed, in its substantive caution, that the Republican Party isn’t ready to move very far. At least not yet… If your life isn’t working now, there’s little in here that sufficient to trigger a turnaround.”

If Cantor is to be believed, then the Republican Party, after its recent strategy sessions in Williamsburg, has transformed itself from being the party of “No” to anything that the White House wants to becoming the compassionate alternative, caring deeply about education, health care and innovation. Gulp! Did the GOP suddenly lose its hard-edged reputation somewhere between cocktails and trips to the washroom? Why does John Mitchell’s entreaty “to watch what we do, not what we say” come to mind?

But let’s give Cantor his due. After all, he has chosen to step forward in an obvious attempt to soften party rhetoric and respond to criticisms that the GOP is out of touch with the common workingman. Per Cantor’s introductory words:

“Over the next two years, the House majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families. And to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits. We will advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family and accountability in government. Our goal – to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams.”

What are some of these “solutions”? Here is a brief recap:

  • Education: The latest rage in educational reform circles is something called weighted-student averaging for federal education funding. This proposal was perhaps the meat within Cantor’s forward agenda, but it is one more veiled attempt to force accountability from a federal level back onto the educational establishment. If a school attracts more students, then grant formulas will be adjusted to reward them. Cantor would also like to influence how a prospective student chooses his major by forcing schools to disclose unemployment data and potential earnings for specific career paths. A current bill making the rounds has another carefully chosen title, “Know Before You Go.”
  • Immigration: Cantor touched upon two solutions in this area. One solution sounded eerily like a new take on the DREAM Act, while the other gave preferential green card status to foreign students that graduate from our highest institutions. “Each year our colleges and universities graduate approximately 40,000 foreign nationals with masters and Ph.D.s, many of whom are then forced to leave the country because there are not enough visa slots in our immigration system to permit them to stay.” Cantor intends to fix this problem;
  • Innovation: The substance here was to cut grants for social studies and politics and re-direct them toward medical research. I wonder if that would include stem-cell research, as well?
  • Health Care: Believe it or not, Cantor did not call for the repeal of Obamacare, but he gave little detail on how any of his proposals would improve insurance options for uncovered families. He wants to eliminate the taxes in the Affordable Care Act, tweak Medicare deductibles, and give states more flexibility in Medicaid administration;
  • Working Families: This section of his speech was the oddest idea of all. The United States is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not have legislation guaranteeing paid vacation for employees. Cantor suggests that hourly employees should be able to convert overtime to future flextime options. Per Klein, “Cantor is saying that the way to solve the problem of working parents not having enough time with their kids is to give them an incentive to work more overtime.”

Are you impressed with the loftiness of these proposals? Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast yawned the following, “Cantor seems more interested in projecting empathy than offering new legislative solutions. Cantor may be concerned about his own political persona as well. Despite his courtly style, he is consistently portrayed as a green-eyeshade conservative, more intransigent than his boss, John Boehner.”

There were no showstoppers or new ground readied for planting in this preview of the reformed GOP. Much of the focus was on incentives and minor tweaking of existing programs, all delivered in a much more receptive familial tone. As always with proposals like these, the devil will be in the detail – as in which programs will be cut to pave the way for newer directions. There were few insights in this regard, but the lipstick certainly looked nicer than before, as image was definitely the overriding issue. Only time will tell if the rest of the GOP will embrace his “future of higher growth and more opportunity.” Lean Forward!

References: Embedded links provided, but points made are primarily the opinion of the author.

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TomCleveland is based in Gainesville, Georgia, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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