Eric Cantor and the Mediocrity of the Successful

Eric CantorI first started reading Jonathan Chait not because of his analysis (which is usually pretty good) but because he’s a damned funny guy. But he doesn’t show it off as much as he used to. But yesterday, he was in fine form, Eric Cantor Shocked by Trump’s Victory, Also Everything That Has Ever Happened. Mike Allen had reported that Cantor made a bet that Trump would not win a single primary. Well, Trump has now won a primary. And it’s kinda hard to see how he doesn’t win at least a few more. In fact, he looks really good to win the nomination.

The joke in Chait’s article is that Eric Cantor has this habit of being horribly wrong about just about everything. When he lost his primary back in 2014, his internal polling apparently indicated that he was ahead by 34 percentage points! Can you imagine? It shows a shocking lack of management. Who did he have running his campaign? Did he have no ears on the ground checking to see if the folk were restless?

Not only this, Cantor lost a whole bunch of money in 2010 because he bet that interest rates would go up. Well, as pretty much any economist would have told him at the time: interest rates would stay low as long as the economy was weak. But among conservatives it was just “known” that inflation was going to go wild because stimulus blah blah blah and printing money blah blah blah. But how could Eric Cantor know? He was only House Majority Leader. It’s not like he was a sophisticated person.

Well, Chait brilliantly put together the absurdity that is Eric Cantor:

But now, Cantor, freed from Congress, is working for an investment firm called Moelis & Company: “Whether you are looking at Washington DC proper, the northern Virginia technology corridor or some very well-known companies based in Maryland, these firms need innovative, independent banking advice and Moelis & Company is well positioned to provide it.” So people who want to bet their money on Cantor’s ability to see the future know where to go.

Eric Cantor Is Typical

Here’s the thing: Eric Cantor is not exceptional in being a hugely successful mediocrity. He is the rule. Cantor comes from money. But his success is mostly due to the typical kind of guy who is smart enough to get through college but socially stunted to the point of fitting in perfectly at Phi Sigma Kappa. And once you are a member of the club, well, you are set. A lot of people thought he got his $3.4 million job because of services rendered. I don’t really think so. I think it’s more the other way around: as a guy who was part of the club that knew despite his incompetence that he would get a multi-million dollar job offer, he just naturally did the bidding for his friends.

This is what continues to amaze me about America. So many people think this is a meritocracy. It is not at all. The vast majority of traditionally successful people I know are mediocrities. People are surprised when a successful businessman makes a boneheaded mistake. But the error these people make is in thinking that “success” in our plutocracy has much of anything to do with intelligence or even being successful. Because people like Eric Cantor will be successful — regardless of how many chances they have to be given.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Eric Cantor and the Mediocrity of the Successful

  1. Maybe it has do to with heroism myths. Even when business figures were stock figures of mockery in American popular culture (from around the earliest days of movies until about “Ghostbusters” or so), still, stories celebrating the “little guy” focused on a handful of brave visionaries. Maybe with some helpful little folks yelling “go, you stand for us” in tow. We want to celebrate the hero as helping us little folks, so someday we can be the hero ourselves.

    (It’s been so turned around, now. The “hero” is the business visionary. Those of us in the Hive Mind who support this heroism, through our purchase of business products or support of politicians who want to “run government like a business”, are all participants in fighting off the damned devils of dumbness. Enriching us all, so someday, we will become heroes, too.)

    True collaboration — collaboration not of the Hive Mind supporting some leader, but of passionate individuals battling over tactics and strategy — has never really had a place in our storytelling. Rosa Parks, the “little gal” who said “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore,” inspiring followers, is a hero. Rosa Parks, who attended the Highlander Folk School and debated strategy with civil rights/labor activists who’d studied slave resistance and European labor movements, isn’t a hero. And yet that Rosa Parks is way more a hero!

    Kinda reminds me of those VU posts. VU couldn’t be just a band; it was Lou Reed, rebel and visionary. Why couldn’t it be a good band of good musicians who fought a lot and agreed on some things?

    • From a writer’s perspective, it is hard to create compelling stories that don’t focus on a small number of characters. But it seems that very few people even try. I don’t think that’s a big problem, though. The problem is that people take the fiction for reality. That last UV album shows (1) Reed wasn’t critical; and (2) the listening community was committed to the idea that he was.

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