In Canceled Speech, Rep. Cantor Planned To Miss The Point On Economic Inequality

October 21, 2011 5:24 pm ET — Alan Pyke

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) prepared remarks for this afternoon's canceled speech on income inequality contain neither the words "income" nor "inequality." There are no policy proposals in the prepared text, because Cantor doesn't have a grand legislative agenda to roll out. As Seth Michaels pointed out earlier this week, the Republican answer to everything is "to shovel more money to the very wealthiest," even though businesses and job creators are flush with cash today.

Cantor's speech wasn't even going to bother reiterating the GOP platform, but he did intend to talk about economic hardship, and draw dishonest contrasts between the conservative and progressive approaches to them:

The basis upon which America was founded and the basis upon which America thrives is providing people with the equality of opportunity - not equality of outcome. [...]

Each generation is able to get a little further ahead, climbing up the ladder of success in our society. How quickly you move up - or sometimes down - should be completely up to you.

Much of the conversation in the current political debate today has been focused on fairness in our society. Republicans believe that what is fair is a hand up, not a hand out.

We know that we all don't begin life's race from the same starting point. I was fortunate enough to be born into a stable family that provided me with the tools that I needed to get ahead. Not everyone is so lucky. Some are born into extremely difficult situations, facing severe obstacles. The fact is many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use. 

That implies that the very real problems of poverty are the only — or at least the primary — obstacles to up-by-your-bootstraps success stories in America today. This misses the point of the protests that scared Cantor away from giving this speech, and misses by a lot. In fact, the fallout from the Wall Street collapse of 2007 is so toxic and so vast that Americans with every educational and environmental advantage, and the desire and willingness to work hard, are unable to find jobs.

Cantor's response to all of this? Slash taxes for corporations and the wealthy even further; reject President Obama's attempt to cut payroll taxes for working people and invest in public works; roll back every regulation that isn't nailed down — especially the newly minted checks on Wall Street recklessness; and while he's at it, shred the safety nets of Medicaid and food aid.

None of that will guarantee equality of opportunity. Instead, Cantor's ideas take us further away from a level playing field, and remove crucial guarantees that encourage Americans to take the entrepreneurial risks he planned to praise today.

Read more about Cantor's approach to inequality here.

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