The demonization of Eric Cantor

Those who criticize the House Majority Leader for refusing to raise taxes accuse him of harming America over a financial issue but they are forgetting that the American revolution itself was a call to resistance against unfair taxation.

Eric Cantor. (photo credit: Photo: Courtesy: United States Congress)
Eric Cantor.
(photo credit: Photo: Courtesy: United States Congress)
Attacks on US congressman Eric Cantor are gaining steam. Senator Harry Reid called him childish. Many in the media have portrayed him as the obstinate Republican who will destroy American credit by blocking a deal on raising the debt ceiling. But for those of us who feel constantly ripped off by a government addicted to irresponsible spending, he is a hero.
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I know Eric personally. He is a modest, focused, and unassuming man who speaks up with something important and wise to contribute. But beneath his calm exterior is a steely core which President Barack Obama is now witnessing against first hand. Cantor is not easily intimidated. Pursuing principles rather than popularity contests, Cantor is not flashy and neither is he desperate to be loved. He is a man of faith and conviction, and his salt-of-the-earth values stem from his upbringing in Richmond to a family of committed Jews with deep communal involvement who till today serve in leadership positions in synagogues and educational establishments. Eric’s mother is a warm Southern matron with a caring smile who converses freely and kindly. You would never be able to tell that she has a son in such a high position of power.
But what is most responsible for Eric’s meteoric rise to House Majority Leader is that he is a people person. When you write to him, no matter how busy, he writes back. When you speak to him in his office, he listens attentively and he seeks to learn from all whom he meets. I remember feeling, the first time we met, that I was in the presence of the consummate Southern gentleman.
And because he’s a people person he knows that people are plain fed up. We work hard to support our families and raise good kids. We feel let down by undisciplined politicians who think the American tax-payer is a piggy bank. We’re drained from bloated government waste. Yes, we want America to be a compassionate country that takes care of the needy at home and fights bad guys overseas. But we’re tired of being pawns in a game of vote-buying by political figures appealing to special interests. We feel no guilt at protecting that which we have legitimately earned and we want our generous charitable giving to be at our own, rather than the government’s discretion.
Those who criticize Eric for refusing to raise taxes accuse him of harming America over a financial issue. They forget that the American revolution was a call to resistance against unfair taxation. And while the circumstances were, of course, different, and the British levied taxes without giving us elected members of parliament, the principle remains the same: fair taxation, by the will of the people, inspires citizens to live by the sweat of their brow.
The national debt has increased by a third in the two-and-a-half years since Barack Obama became President. Is the solution to closing this gap really to tax us more rather than to finally reign in spending?
We Americans are taxed up the wazoo. We are taxed when we wake up and we are taxed when we sleep. We are taxed when we breathe and we are taxed, ironically, when we stop breathing. We are taxed when we work and we are taxed when we rest. Yet still, our government is bankrupt.
Aside from federal, state (in New Jersey it’s nearly 10%), and local tax, owning a home requires me to pay exorbitant property taxes of which not a single dollar can go to my children’s education because they are in a private Jewish day school. You’d think that some of my tax money could go to their school’s mathematics or social studies departments, which are not religious. But I and other religious parents across the nation are being bankrupted by high property taxes and high tuition rates that are becoming unaffordable. So imagine how we were made to feel when in early 2009 we read in The New York Times that President Obama’s trillion dollar stimulus package forced public schools (who did not request nor require stimulus funds) to accept the money and spend it? We middle-class Americans are paying about half of all our earnings to the government. On top of that we want to give charity. Is it reasonable to ask for more?
Yes, we’re fed up. President Obama can storm out of all the meetings he wants with Cantor. But he cannot break the man because Cantor is backed by people who are already broken and who have had enough.
Amid a flawed nature and an imperfect character I try to live by the values of justice and compassion. I believe in helping all those who are in need, and Lord knows, I have been in need at times of my life as well. But I also know that greater even than the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter is that of human dignity, which derives from self-sufficiency. Dignity accrues to the man or woman who, with God’s blessings, provides for their family’s daily bread. The role of government is to facilitate the acquisition of human dignity by giving men and women the opportunities to be self-sufficient. In life we all seek redemption. But we wish for it to come through our own devices.
A bloated, nanny-state government is an impediment to that self-sufficiency. We want teachers who are effective rather than teachers with job protection who stunt the development of students and undermine the dignity of faculty and education. We want unions who understand that collective bargaining that drains a government’s coffers is bad for workers as well as for business.
I have had jobs and I have lost jobs. But the last thing I want is to be kept on in a job because I am pitied. If I have had to lean on others in difficult times – and I have – it has eroded my self-esteem and I have therefore endeavored to get back on my own two feet rather than develop a stultifying and painful dependency. This sentiment is best captured in a beautiful Jewish prayer, recited on the graves of the righteous: “May my sustenance be conveyed to me by Your hand and may it be sweet. May it not be conveyed to me by the hands of mortals, for then it would be as bitter and tough as wormwood and shamefully degrading. Therefore may You, in Your abundant mercies, prepare my sustenance from Your good and full hand, and may it be complete.”
Hence, my support for Eric Cantor. He, more than anyone else currently in government, is the dam holding back the torrent of spending that would deepen our national depth and increase the unhealthy dependency that government sometimes creates. His efforts may not be fully appreciated now, but in cutting government waste he will earn the gratitude of the American people for saving our country from financial calamity and saving the rest of us from the plundering of private pockets to facilitate that oblivion.The writer, "America’s Rabbi," was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, and is the international best-selling author of 25 books, including Judaism for Everyone. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.