This column was originally published on Sept. 10. One week later, Warren wrote a response.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is quickly becoming a progressive leader, but when she took a run at former Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor for going to work for a Wall Street firm, she was wrong.
I agree with a lot of what Warren says. In my time in Congress, I used to describe myself as a member of the fighting wing of the Democratic Party. Today, that would probably be called the Warren wing.
And honestly, I can’t think of any time I agreed with Eric Cantor. On paper, he and I have some things in common: we were elected the same year; we are both Jewish, and we both had, uh, blind spots that shortened our congressional careers. However, Cantor’s unbridled ambition led to his active support in empowering the most nihilist elements of his party and, ultimately, the creation of the most dysfunctional Congress in American history. By the time he realised being the perpetual thorn in Speaker John Boehner’s side was bad for his party and horrible for the nation, it was too late to save himself from the monsters he had created.
Still, despite my admiration for Warren and disagreements with Cantor, I think her attack on his new gig with the investment bank Moelis was off base.
In her interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo! News, Warren said Cantor’s move was exemplary of a “revolving door” between D.C. and the finance world. She also suggested it was evidence of a disturbing phenomenon where “people in government are looking for that next job.”
But is Cantor really sprinting through an unseemly “revolving door?” Well, it is a door and a lucrative one at that. But revolving? If he wants to return to politics, maybe his Wall Street connections will help him raise money for a future campaign, but fund raising has never been a problem for him. Also, going to an investment bank is probably one of the least helpful places to go because of fundraising rules that limit how much those in that industry can donate. And if the implication is that he is going to work in an industry he once regulated, well isn’t that true of literally every industry?
Warren went on to claim former politicians who go to Wall Street “head straight out into the industry, not because they bring great expertise and insight, but because they’re selling access back in to their former colleagues who are still writing policy, who are still making laws.”
Well, who wants to buy access to Members of Congress anyway? If Congress were a hotbed of lawmaking and problem solving, maybe you can argue that hiring one of their former leaders was a play at getting in that legislative pipeline. But today? Thanks to Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives is the absolute last place to turn if you wanted to accomplish something. And the law prohibits Cantor from contacting members or their staffs about legislation for a year.
There are lots of real reasons to be cynical about the state of politics nowadays, but Warren overshoots by making Cantor’s move seem more troublesome that it really is. She’s also wrong to question Cantor’s expertise.
In fact, Cantor does bring a ton of knowledge and insight to the table. The TV dial, lecture circuit and bookstore shelves are filled with people who are paid to try to demystify Congress and explain why things are — or more often are not — happening. It’s hard to think of a person who has more of a sense of those rhythms than a former majority leader of the House of Representatives. You don’t get that job without having a pretty deep knowledge of virtually every congressional district in the nation and understanding what animates their representatives. That alone makes Cantor more valuable than almost any of the so called “analysts” out there.
Is it really true that he has no expertise? I’m not so sure. I rarely agree with the guy, but being wrong a lot doesn’t mean he isn’t an expert on issues. As the primary traffic cop on the House floor, looking for traps in legislation — or setting them for the Democrats — is a major part of the job. Even with legions of very talented staff, members of leadership have to become pretty fluent in virtually every issue that crosses the floor.
There is a lot about Eric Cantor not to like for progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and me. His positions on policy and his role as obstructionist in chief are reasons enough for us to be happy he lost. But to gild the lily of cynicism with an overblown critique of his post public life seems petty.
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