Can Progressives Learn from Eric Cantor’s Defeat?


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! 

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?