Gather Round For Eric Cantor’s Fractured Fairy Tales About The Obama Era

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Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was caught up in the Tea Party zealotry that former House Speaker John Boehner condemns in his memoir, On The House (yes, that's the title). Cantor lost his primary race in 2014 to Dave Brat, whom Cantor tried to smear as a “liberal professor" with ties to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Despite an internal poll showing Cantor up 34 points, external voters ultimately backed Brat by 11 points. He was the first House majority leader to lose a primary in more than 100 years. It was all very hilarious. Now, Cantor is back and ready to reveal the true source of the GOP's many ills.

It's Barack Obama. He's going to blame Barack Obama. There's no real suspense here.

Here's what Cantor told CNN's Brianna Keilar:

I don't doubt for a second that the level of craziness has increased in Washington over the last few years in both parties. But certainly, back when we were serving during the Obama administration, there was plenty of indicators that we had an extreme element on both sides of the aisle.

Gonna interrupt here to ask Cantor where exactly the “craziness" is within the current Democratic Party. He can't reflexively blame Rep. Maxine Waters because she's been in Congress for 30 years. The media needs to corner Republicans on this “both sides" BS and demand they provide a single relevant recent example of Democratic “craziness" that's on par with the GOP's growing QAnon wing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is young, female, and brown, but she's no more extreme politically than Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who was in the House during the Reagan administration.

OK, back to Cantor:

One of the things that happened early on in the Obama administration was that he laid down the gauntlet with his so-called stimulus bill and drew the party line really brightly, which encouraged some of this backlash on the extreme ends of the spectrum.

This is very distorted history, like those books where Abraham Lincoln fights vampires with Jane Austen. To borrow from Hawkeye Pierce, Cantor's version of what happened during the Obama years is to say the least fascinating. It's also, to say the most, a big fat lie.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a necessary stimulus package designed to save the economy after George W. Bush tanked it. Obama didn't “lay down the gauntlet" and refuse to work with Republicans. Cantor himself was among the Republicans who gathered at a Washington DC steakhouse on the night of Obama's inauguration and plotted to oppose the new president at every turn.

Obama watered down the stimulus and still received no GOP votes. Republicans later celebrated their unified opposition, which they saw as the first step in regaining the majority.

"I know all of you are pumped about the vote," said Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip. "We'll have more to come!"

The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything. Their conference chairman, a then-obscure Indiana conservative named Mike Pence, underscored the point with a clip from Patton, showing the general rallying his troops for war against their Nazi enemy: "We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time! We're going to go through him like crap through a goose!"

This was January 29, 2009, and the GOP was already comparing Obama and the Democrats to Nazis. Cantor helped light the fuse for the Tea Party flames that would later consume him. He never wanted to make deals with Obama, even if the president agreed to govern like John McCain. Thanks to the 24-hour news outrage machine, it's easier for an opposing party to run against a president's perceived failures than try to take credit for shared successes.

While the early Tea Party rallies superficially responded to excessive spending in the stimulus, the driving political energy was conservative hatred of Obama. After all, the original American Revolution, which the Tea Party recalled in name, was a rebellion against a tyrannical leader. The “economic anxiety" excuse was present even before the one term loser's racist 2016 campaign, but Tea Partiers were waving signs reading, "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for the American" before the end of Obama's first 100 days.

This weekend, Boehner blamed Obama for his failure to pass immigration reform. However, Cantor's tepid support for the smallest reforms was considered partly responsible for his upset loss in 2014. Fox News's Todd Starnes tweeted afterward, "Here's the message from Virginia: You either stand with Americans or you stand with the invaders." Lying to the American people about Obama didn't save Cantor's political career in 2014, and it won't save his legacy now.

Cantor also predictably declared that he'd support the seditionist in chief again in 2024 “if the opposition is going to be about policies that I wouldn't agree with." So, unless Democrats become indistinguishable from polite, country club Republicans, Cantor is riding the QAnon express. That's probably also Obama's fault.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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