National Commentary

Eric Cantor’s Fall to Discontent

nfbentonpicIt was an amazing day in politics played out over Virginia Tuesday. On one end of the state, one of the strongest Democrats, nationally, won decisively in a seven-field primary to replace the retiring Rep. Jim Moran. Former ambassador and Virginia lieutenant governor Donald S. Beyer, Jr., was the overwhelming winner to hold that seat for the Democrats in one of the most progressive districts in the U.S. come November.

On the other end, GOP House majority leader Eric Cantor was upset.

First on Beyer, his standing in his own party – having led national and regional organizing efforts for Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. Barack Obama in the last decade – will pull a lot of weight helping ensure the re-election in November of Virginia’s freshman Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner.

With talk of the 2016 Presidential race louder by the day, a man of Beyer’s stature will assuredly be a factor. He’s said he plans to hold his congressional seat for 12 to 20 years, but things happen. He is simply too articulate, too principled and too important as a forceful leader to remain on the sidelines of any major political fights now, and it helps that his new district, assuming he wins in November, is just across the mighty Potomac River from the nation’s capital.

The re-entry of Beyer into the U.S. political mix (after his four-year hiatus to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland) comes as a gigantic and sorely needed breath of fresh air, given the extent to which the national political process remains on the brink of descending further into chaos.

Thus, the Cantor upset. The other major political development in Virginia Tuesday was the stunning upset of the right-wing now-former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his own party’s primary by an upstart political novice affiliated with the Tea Party.

It may be too soon to fully assess what accounted for that one, with some polling showing that it wasn’t simply right wing knee-jerk reaction to Cantor’s perceived softness on immigration, but more due to voter frustration with the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Congress, more generally.
But as in many things like this, it is most likely a mix of them and more, with the only common thread being genuine disdain for how things are going in the governance of the nation. That ultimately could cut either way, depending on the ability of an emerging real political leadership of the type that Beyer represents to steer it, or not.

It underscores the very dicey and precarious situation that is emerging in the U.S., where growing popular unrest unleashed by the financial meltdown of 2008, the growing disparity between the livelihoods of the top one percent of the one percent and the rest of us, the unfathomable spying overreach by the NSA, the stifling impact of student loans, the criminal endemic negligence of the Veterans Administration, and an economy that remains teetering on the brink of another great meltdown, could go either way.

Also, don’t underestimate the impact on the American electorate of the descent of Iraq back into chaos, after so much was expended, in human lives and financial resources, to pursue the incredibly ill-advised and unprovoked U.S. military invasion.

Yes, the American population is increasingly angry at the ineffectiveness of its official leadership, and it’s almost as if each new renegade killer firing on children and other innocents on U.S. soil is taunting our system’s failure, daring anyone to stand up to the gun lobby.

President Obama is right to put the blame at the feet of the American people for allowing their political leaders to be weak-kneed and impotent. We, the people, are so self-indulgent that we won’t stand up to bullies, either. In fact, we’ve totally embraced a culture of endemic, lazy cowardice in the face of bullying and insolence that tacitly encourages countless forms of self-justified anger. Rush Limbaugh and other bellowing angry haters are popular because they reinforce such a degenerate mindset.

Shifting the growing discontent of the American people toward civil, constructive and compassionate outcomes will require that this cultural decline be taken head on. Good luck with that, Mr. Beyer, et al. Seriously.