As our increasingly dysfunctional federal government limps toward a deal to raise the U.S. debt limit, I think we all can agree that no one is going to leave this messy process covered in glory. But if there is one grating personality that rises head and shoulders (and teeth and hair) above the rest, it’s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Whether it’s storming out of bipartisan deficit-reduction talks led by Joe Biden (apparently without even warning his boss, Speaker of the House John Boehner), investing in a bond fund that would make money off a default, or needling President Obama so relentlessly that the leader of the free world left the room in disgust, Virginia’s top Republican has arguably done more than any other single individual to push the nation to the brink of default.
The question is: Why? After all, it’s not as if Cantor’s antics have done much to help him — or his party. Although his hardline “no new taxes” posturing certainly endeared him to the House’s Tea Party caucus, it pissed off almost everyone else. And while Cantor probably doesn’t care if the president dresses him down, or if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sneers that “he shouldn’t even be at the table,” the sniping isn’t limited to the Dems’ side of the aisle. As one “House Republican with close ties to Cantor” recently told Politico, “[Cantor] lost a lot of credibility when he walked away from the table… It was childish.”
Then, of course, there are the practical consequences of toying with the full faith and credit of the United States. Perhaps one thing Cantor wasn’t considering when he began his debt-ceiling-denial dance was the fact that Virginia’s economy relies heavily on federal funds and would, therefore, be quite negatively impacted by a default. But you know who does consider it? Debt-rating agencies like Moody’s, which threatened to downgrade the commonwealth’s AAA bond rating as talks continued to falter.
This, predictably, did not make Governor Bob McDonnell very happy. Quite the opposite, in fact. “I’m very unhappy,” he told reporters at a hastily called news conference last week. “In fact, we’re furious. It’s a national embarrassment to the United States of America.”
Meanwhile, Cantor’s Republican counterparts in the Senate continue to act as if he doesn’t exist. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who fully recognizes what a disaster a default would be for his party, put forward a “Plan B” that would shift the entire debt-raising onus onto President Obama, while pointedly warning that a default would “destroy the GOP brand.”
Still, if any of this is bothering Cantor, he’s definitely not showing it. He obviously believes that, once this entire debt ceiling ordeal is over, his raised profile and hard-won Tea Party bona fides will more than compensate for all of the broken china left in his wake. It would seem that now, more than ever, Cantor’s philosophy is best exemplified by the Victor Herbert song title inscribed above his high school yearbook photo:
“I want what I want when I want it.”
Unfortunately for his constituents, and the nation, he might just get what he wants, while the rest of us are left wanting.