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January 3, 2011 6:46 pm

Cantor Sets the Rules, Promises “Efficiency and Productivity”

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Eric Cantor, Republican Majority Whip, discussed policy at an informal discussion of political expectations at the 92Y in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

How could one not feel a kinship with the charming Southern gentleman gracing the stage for a one to one conversation with Thane Rosenbaum.  After all, his is the perfect “only in America” success story.  (Briefly:  immigrant grandmother leaves the “comfort” of community, moves to Richmond, Virginia, is left a young widow with a grocery store and two small sons, and with perseverance and hard work, “becomes middle class.”)

“My father had appreciation of America.  He taught that in America, you had the chance,” said Cantor.  Noting that his history as a Republican is founded on the experience of his father who “believed you can do anything you want in America.” One must wonder if the elder Cantor’s “great expectations” could have included having his son become the lone Jewish Republican in the United States House of Representatives – and, as of Wednesday, 2011, the majority “whip.”

Cantor’s parents became involved in Virginia politics on the “grassroots” level.  His father found that the Virginia Democratic party was “controlled by the establishment  and not accepting of diversity,”  while the  Republican party offered “opportunity for a Jewish couple” to get involved – despite its domination by Christian conservatives.”

His participation in the 1980 Republican convention in Detroit strongly influenced the young Cantor’s political future.  He says he joined the Republican Party “because of the opportunity the party gave his father.”  The Congressman claims the “party is misunderstood” by the mainstream Jewish community significantly because of the image presented by the media – an image that is changing:  as of November, 2008, he says, registered Jewish Democrats outnumbered registered Jewish Republicans 3 to 1.  Two years later, November, 2010, the ratio changed to 2 to 1, and support for President Obama in the Jewish community has decreased from 79 to 42 per cent.

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Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist and law professor at Fordham Law School in New York City and Director of the Forum on Law, Culture and Society. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

As the 112th Congress convenes and Cantor assumes the position of majority “Whip,” he has assured his colleagues that he is “ready to roll up my sleeves and get down to work with each of you on behalf of the American people” and ensure “more time for quality consideration while increasing the House’s efficiency and guaranteeing the public’s right to know.” …and have “a U.S. House of Representatives that more accurately reflects the Founders’ intent, namely; “direct and constant control by the citizens” (Thomas Jefferson, 1816).”

As a Republican and conservative, Cantor will lead a very changed House of Representatives, one in which his party gained 67 seats.  He is second in command to House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is the new Majority Leader.

Among his newly elected colleagues are Republicans whose elections were influenced by the “Tea Party,” a group of Republicans whose members’ platforms included anti-tax and anti-spend positions.  It will be Cantor’s job to foster compromise and coalition that will get legislation passed.  He says the “Tea Party wave will focus on doing more with less,” and while its proponents are generally negative about foreign aid, do understand that “the security of the United States goes hand in hand with the security of Israel.”

Judaism is an intact and strong influence on Cantor’s personal and family live.  Noting that he was raised in a traditional home,  maintains a kosher home, has educated his children in day schools and Hebrew school and continues his learning with weekly study sessions, Cantor says his work is “ultimately about tikkun olam“ –  about ways to promote human progress.  He is a strong supporter of Israel:  “the way I look at the United States – Israel relationship is that it is a relationship born out of a  religious and moral connections between the people of America and the people of Israel.”

A strong proponent of the separation of church and state, Cantor stresses that while the ‘flashpoint’ starts with the religious connection; it is inherently a strategic relationship.  “Israel is the only ally that we can count on for stability and human progress….with the growth of radical Islam, we (the United States) need Israel to survive.   Obviously, Israel also needs America to survive.”  “We must make sure that Israel’s technical and military superiority is maintained.”

“911 showed us that there really are people who do not like us and will do anything to advance their hatred of us.  We had to begin to think the unthinkable.  That day was the start of US realizing we are in an unconventional war with radical Islam and must counter that threat.”  “Terrorists are not ordinary criminals – most American say we must shift towards battle against radical Islam.”

Says Cantor, “the people who elected (Republicans) by and large get who is on our side…the American people understand the sympathy and strong bond between Israel and America.  This will be a guide to the ways that the new Republicans that lead the house will develop foreign policy.”  He continued “in the game of expectations, this Republican Congress will serve as a check, an instrument to impose accountability on this administration and its policies.”

No political conversation mentioning Israel could conclude without comment about the existential threat of Iran.  Cantor is clear in his belief that the danger is not only to Israel but also to the US.  “This is a regime bent on destroying who and what we are….It is the largest imperative to deal with that threat… to do all we can to make sure sanctions are in place.  The squeeze has got to be on. ”

A whip is a political party official whose primary responsibility is to ensure party discipline and ensure attendance when important votes are taken. The Whip is the party ‘enforcer’ who encourages party members to vote according to official party policy.

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