By Andrew Geisler
Much of the world has been in crisis this summer, but the event most compelling for the less high-minded political class happened back in early June. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the primary election by double digits to an unknown economics professor despite raising ten times more money than him.
This unprecedented loss shocked close political watchers. The race to decide why Cantor lost, as well as over analyze the implications for the Republican Party, happened quickly.
Some blamed the loss on Cantor's tepid support for some type of immigration reform. Others blamed his obstructionist ways as Majority Leader (these were certainly the least credible critics). The third group blamed Cantor's deep connections to Wall Street and focus on raising money, which indicated some mixed up political priorities.
The story came and went. Despite sending shockwaves through Capitol Hill, it was quickly replaced by more pressing world events.
After his loss, everyone assumed Cantor would either continue his illustrious career in the realm of public service as a lobbyist, an investment banker or some combination of the two. Ramesh Ponnuru, a conservative columnist writing for Bloomberg, spelled out the beltway conventional wisdom, calling Cantor's impending lobbying career his obvious next act, and the best way for him to retain his "influence."
On Tuesday, the news broke that Cantor chose investment banker; although, he won't be moving to Wall Street. Instead he'll open a Washington D.C. office for Moelis, a "boutique investment bank."
In their typically high-minded tone, the headline writers at POLITICO posited the next most important question in Cantor's life: "Eric Cantor: Beltway big shot to Wall Street titan?"
The piece went on to make it clear Cantor may return to politics in the future-Virginia's governor can only serve a single four-year term and in 2017, the seat will be open again.
In their write-up of the news, the Wall Street Journal said Cantor's plans to join Moelis originated back in July during a brunch with Ken Moelis, Cantor and their wives in Los Angeles. Moelis, the Journal reports, "was giving Mr. Cantor career advice when it occurred to him that the two should work together."
Many members of Congress go to D.C. because they care about representing their communities, but then are all too easily changed by the culture of compromising principles in the name of political influence. They end up thoughtlessly voting through omnibus spending bills that help out people who are already rich, leaving the average American to foot the bill.
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Washington types obsess over immigration reform when they should really be talking about middle class wages, lifting the nearly 50 million Americans in poverty out of it, and grappling with serious strategies to deal with the new economy.
Cantor often gave lip service to caring about such issues. He got his political action committee behind a policy push called "Room to Grow," which attempts to address economic issues in a way that might actually make life easier for the broad cross section of Americans.
He also used his perch as Majority Leader to push a legislative strategy known as "Making Life Work," which sought to make some basic fixes to the Affordable Care Act (this did not go over well with the Republican conference).
Sadly, Cantor showed his misguided priorities by choosing to peddle influence for the well-off instead of using his influence to address pocketbook issues in his post-Congressional life. Obviously choosing the latter would pay less, but isn't Cantor already quite rich? Will making millions more really lead to a life lived well?
The fact that the political class takes Cantor's choice for granted, assuming it as his obvious next step, is unfortunate. Washington is a town of largely power-hungry individuals who often take for granted that another person's choices will be about the accumulation of more power and money. It's a laughable notion that a man like Cantor would use his past position to actually try and do good. He tried that in the House, some would say, and now it's time for him to make his money.
When those covering and working in such institutions buy into this corrosive thinking, you get the deeply disconnected political class we have now. Many people across the country do not think in this warped, all about number one, way.
Politics, even with the day-to-day horse-trading that goes on, should be looked at as noble work. Our elected officials have an unmatched ability to make a difference for the average citizen. This is a fact that's all too easily ignored because most of them choose not to make this difference. Instead they care only about what they'll do after, having columnists for The New York Times like them or retaining a fleeting "influence" among their colleagues.
The American people do not think well of politics or politicians. It's for good reason. Washington's culture is money obsessed, power obsessed, insular and disconnected.
Yet we continue to elect individuals who perpetuate this problem. Until we send those among us without the bent toward this love of fame and fortune to represent us, the basic disconnect will persist.