FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Can Progressives Learn from Eric Cantor’s Defeat?

by

The stunning upset defeat of House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) by Professor David Brat, an economist from Randolph-Macon College, in Tuesday’s Republican Primary has several takeaways for progressives besides envy and shame over why they do not directly take on the corporate Democrats.

First, among all the reasons for Cantor’s fall, there were the ones encapsulated in the Nation’s John Nichols’ description of Brat as an “anti-corporate conservative.” Repeatedly, Brat said he was for “free enterprise” but against “crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful.” David Brat pointed out that Cantor and the Republican establishment have “been paying way too much attention to Wall Street and not enough to Main Street.”

Brat supported “the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA” and other government agencies on constitutional grounds.

Professor Brat attacked the Wall Street investment bankers who nearly “broke the financial system,” adding the applause line: “these guys should have gone to jail. Instead of going to jail, where did they go? They went to Eric Cantor’s Rolodex.”

An advocate of ethical capitalism, with religious-Christian overtones, Mr. Brat went after the deal-making in Washington, such as Cantor’s close relationships with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. He especially berated Cantor for weakening the proposed bill to ban insider trading by members of Congress by exempting their family members and spouses.

He chastised Cantor on immigration, taking advantage of the latter’s wavering appeal to voters who believe that large corporations, represented by Cantor, want a never-ending supply of cheap foreign labor to hold wages down. On the other hand, Brat opposes a minimum wage on libertarian grounds.

In addition, David Brat, described as a “commanding orator who mixes fiery rhetoric with academic references and self-depreciating humor,” wants a balanced-budget amendment, a “fair or flat tax,” and is opposed to federal educational programs such as “No Child Left Behind.”

Brat is a mixed bag for progressives. But in that mix is a clear populist challenge by Main Street against Wall Street and by ordinary people against the corporate government with subsidies and bailouts that the Left calls corporate welfare and the Right calls crony capitalism. Therein lies the potential for a winning majority alliance between Left and Right as my new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, relates in realistic detail.

Second, Professor Brat spent about $230,000 to Eric Cantor’s $5.7 million. However, David Brat more than made up for the money deficit with energy, focused barbs and the shoe-leather of his committed followers. On election night, Brat made the point that progressives would do well to heed, as they obsess over big money in politics; “Dollars don’t vote,” he said, “people do.” Interestingly, Tea Party forces and donors claim they thought Cantor was so unbeatable that they didn’t even fund David Brat even though he had two national radio talk show hosts speaking well of him.

Can’t progressives find that kind of energy with their many broader issues and larger support base? Can’t they find capable so-called “nobodies” with hidden talent to become publically heralded champions? There are fresh voices everywhere who can take on the corporate Democrats, like the Clintons, who work with Wall Streeters and espouse crony capitalism and with neocons to advance militarism abroad, along with corporate-managed, job destroying trade agreements and off-shore tax havens?

Unfortunately the driving energy of progressives, including the dissipating Occupy Wall Street effort, is not showing up in the electoral arena. The political energy, the policy disputes and the competitive contests are among the Republicans, not the Democrats, observed the astute political commentator and former Clinton White House aide, Bill Curry.

The third lesson from the decisive Cantor upset is not to embrace the political attitude that calls for settling, from the outset, for the least-of-the-worst choices. Progressives have expressed and harbored strong criticisms of the Democratic Party establishment and their adoption of corporatist policies, but election cycle after election cycle, fearful of the Republican bad guys, they signal to the Democrat incumbents that the least-of-the-worst is acceptable. Like the liberals they often consort with, progressives do not ask: “Why not the best?” with the plan that they will either win or at least pull their Party away from the relentless 24/7 grip of big-time corporatism.

The final takeaway from this fascinating Virginian contest in the 7th Congressional District near Richmond was that Cantor’s tactics backfired. The more Cantor spent on TV, radio, billboard ads and mailings, the more David Brat became known and the more people were reminded that Washington and Wall Street really do not care about people on Main Street.

That is truly the nub of a Left-Right alliance. In recent decades, pollsters would sometimes pose a variation of the question: “Do you believe that X candidate or Y party or Z in Washington cares about people like you?” The responses revealed a sizable majority of people, regardless of their ideological or political labels, said “no.”

With the interest of the public, the community and the country in the forefront, those “nos” can become “yeses” for a long-overdue rejuvenated and just society driven by reality and edified by its ideals.

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail