Eric Cantor gave a speech and I think it sucked. What are the odds?
Ezra Klein provides a nice rundown of all of Cantor’s policy proposals. He isn’t too impressed either, but I think that he gives Cantor far too much credit.
There is one big way that the Republicans could signal that are changing: they could talk seriously about the jobs crisis in America. But they won’t do that. To some extent, they must believe that the public wouldn’t really buy it. After all, for the last few years (and especially the last couple of months) the Republicans have been hammering on this issue. But it is always in a vague and negative way. John Boehner uses pretty much every opportunity to slam President Obama for not doing anything to create jobs.
The problem for the Republicans is that it has been all to clear that they are against any legislation that would actually help the jobs crisis. Instead, when they talk about jobs, everyone rightly hears, “Let’s cut the taxes of rich people!” So it isn’t surprising that Cantor didn’t touch this issue. The truth is that the only Republican idea for creating jobs is to cut the taxes of rich people. Since they cannot think outside that paradigm, it is probably all for the best to say nothing.
There was one policy proposal that is a decent idea (although I figure by the time the Republicans get through with it, it will be worthless). Cantor embraced an idea that Jerry Brown has been pushing here in California: weighted-student averaging for federal education funding. This would give schools more money for poor and disabled students. Hopefully, this would encourage better schools to go after a more diverse student population. My problem with it is that our educational funding system is broken. This is really working the edges when what we really need is fundamental reform. But any non-crazy idea from a Republican is welcome.
The rest of the stuff was worse and some of it was much worse. Cantor wants to repeal the taxes in the ACA (Obamacare). I see this as nothing more than a backdoor to destroying the program. Regardless, just on the surface, what he is offering is another tax cut for the rich. And then he has an idea of giving states more rights in how they handle Medicaid. This is just a call for partial block granting. In both these cases, Klein sees progress because the Republicans are back tracking—not being quite as extreme as they have been. All I see is a party trying to be a little smarter about optics.
So Eric Cantor did indeed give a rebranding talk. And as I’ve argued over and over again since the election: it doesn’t matter. Mitt Romney didn’t lose the presidency because of the 47% comment or any other gaff. He lost because he was the Republican Part personified: a privileged rich man inside a system rigged for him. And the Republican Party has no interest in not being the party of Mitt Romney. Why would they? If they changed that, what would they be?
Where does that leave the country? We now have pretty much an oligarchy. Both parties are committed to the idea that those who are rich should stay rich. And actually, the Democratic Party is doing a better job because the only way to keep the rich rich is to keep the poor reasonably happy. The Republicans seem to think that they can keep the poor from storming the Bastille with the Very Big Army. And maybe they’re right; they might also be right about just how much pain the poor will take. But I don’t think the Republican effort to rebrand without changing their policies is going to get them very far electorally.