How and why Eric Cantor lost to (convincingly) to a Tea Party challenger has been a big story in Washington. The political elites and chattering class of pundits didn't see it coming, but flash-mob hypothesized about it. One early theory of the “shocked and bewildered”, as Time put it, was religious and cultural in tone:
“One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election…. David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”
But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. “Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a writer and lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. His writings are collected at ericyoffie.com.
Culture may have played a part (Eric Cantor was called the leading advocate for Jewish/Israeli issues in Congress) and we’ll have to see if conservative Jewish pols and evangelical Christian pols start to diverge. But another factors seems to be Cantor being perceived as lacking in integrity and political deftness. As Time also noted:
“Cantor’s problem was less ideology and more a sense that he stood more for his own ambition than for any definable policies. He frequently reinvented himself with splashy policy speeches, and toured the country raising money and gathering chits for an eventual run for House Speaker.”
There are several character issues here about what Cantor really stood for (aside from what some presume his conservative Jewish culture.). These were noted by a number of observers:
“[It's a] serious wake up call to all incumbents,” said Scott Reed, the top political strategist for the establishment-friendly Chamber of Commerce. “Time for candidates to run like they are running for sheriff… not prime minister.”
I think this is a point to note. In a functioning democracy the welfare of constituents (there perception o this at least) are the ultimate law, at least every 2, 4 or 6 years.
To his up close constituents Cantor showed a mix of avarice, as demonstrated in his numerous steak feasts mixed with a hint of phoniness, folly & cowardice. It’s was, in part, a classic words vs behavior issue. Cantor tried to have it both ways on so many things. Was he loyal to his base and constituents or to Wall St. and lobbyists? What does his behavior show?
What did he stand for on immigration reform? His early rhetoric on last year’s government shutdown that had excited the Tea-base (and sunk GOP’s poll numbers)It was not enough that Cantor pose as a tea party conservative—his actions must be tea party peevish. Without real action the veneer, the sheen of words wears off. As Cicero said, “false pretensions fall as do flowers, nor can anything feigned be lasting.”
Cantor like many of the privileged pols we have now (Jewish or otherwise) forgot that reputation and integrity are important. People expect that when in power you will follow through on what you say you’re going to do. It's walking the walk.
Cantor’s credibility eroded rather than built over time if only because people who heard his words could see the contrast to his actions as well as his paid for steak dinners. Perhaps you still can't fool all American voters for very long. Something must ring true.
In the end people and policy are more important than politics...or ideology.