Posted by: David Offutt | August 26, 2014

Howard Baker vs. Eric Cantor: A Need for a Loyal Opposition

Howard Baker died June 26, 2014, at the age of 88.  He had been a  Republican senator from Tennessee, first elected in 1966 and chose not to run for a fourth term in 1984.

Howard Baker died June 26, 2014, at the age of 88. He had been a Republican senator from Tennessee, first elected in 1966 and chose not to run for a fourth term in 1984.

Howard Baker died in late June. The former Tennessee senator was one of the last moderate/moderate conservatives in the Republican Party. He is best remembered as the co-chair of the Senate Watergate Committee (1973-74) who asked about his fellow Republican Richard Nixon: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” He became known as the “Great Conciliator” and, as Senate Minority Leader (1977-81), helped Jimmy Carter get ratification of the extremely important Panama Canal treaties.  Majority Leader (1981-85), he retired in 1985 before his party finished its purge of people like him who actually believed in public service.

 

Howard Baker served as a Reagan aide for 17 months (March 1987 to June 1988). He left the White House before Reagan's term was up so that he could be with his ailing wife, who died in 1993. George W. Bush appointed him to be Ambassador to Japan, serving from 2001 to 2005.

Howard Baker served as a Reagan aide for 17 months (March 1987 to June 1988). He left the White House before Reagan’s term was up so that he could be with his ailing wife, who died in 1993. George W. Bush appointed him to be Ambassador to Japan, serving from 2001 to 2005.

I wish he were equally remembered for helping us get through the last two years of the Reagan administration, which had virtually collapsed during the Iran-Contra Affair (a scandal that appeared to be more constitutionally serious than Watergate). He gave up a possible bid for the presidency to become Reagan’s White House Chief of State and restored order out of criminality and incompetence. He never wrote a tell-all about the mess he inherited and never took personal credit for his actions. He always gave the clueless, but appreciative, Reagan credit for everything.

 

Because I lived in eastern Arkansas in 1972 and 1978 when Baker was campaigning for re-election to the Senate, much of my television news came from stations in Memphis.  I recall a TV ad in which he told a group of senior citizens that as long as he was in Congress they would never have to worry about losing their Social Security or Medicare benefits. Can you imagine any Republican saying that today? It would be a political kiss of death.

 

Republican Eric Cantor represented the 7th congressional district in Virginia from 2001 until his defeat by Dave Brat and his subsequent resignation from the House in 2014. As House Minority Whip (2009-2011) and House Majority Leader (2011-2014), he was instrumental in uniting Republican opposition to anything President Obama did or recommended.

Republican Eric Cantor represented the 7th congressional district in Virginia from 2001 until his defeat by Dave Brat and his subsequent resignation from the House in 2014. As House Minority Whip (2009-2011) and House Majority Leader (2011-2014), he was instrumental in uniting Republican opposition to anything President Obama did or recommended.

In stark contrast to Howard Baker who led a loyal opposition, Eric Cantor rose to power as the House Republican Majority Leader using strictly extreme partisanship. Since 2010, he worked tirelessly to prevent the House of Representatives from ever taking constructive action on anything that might solve any of our numerous problems: high unemployment, low wages, our deteriorating infrastructure, domestic violence, et al. Although extremely influential, he was practically anonymous. A few years ago, he was the answer to a clue on TV’s Jeopardy. The contestants on that show are always knowledgeable people, but not one of the three knew who Cantor was.

 

Ironically, Cantor was considered to be the TEA Party’s heir apparent to the inept John Boehner as Speaker of the House. But Cantor had the same flaw as Boehner – as perceived by the Fox-TEA Party wing. They each have had moments when they remembered that they really should help govern rather than sabotage the country – like when the debt ceiling needs to be raised to allow the U.S. to pay its debts and prevent our becoming a failed, deadbeat nation. So Cantor wasn’t quite extreme enough and a little-known TEA Party challenger primaried him this summer and defeated him.

 

Shortly after his defeat, I was vacationing in Colorado at Valley View Hot Springs, near the one-street town of Villa Grove. Whenever I’m out there, I always drive into town for breakfast at its iconic trade store. There is one table in the café section that is always occupied by loud, coffee-drinking locals who discuss the current news together. One morning Cantor’s defeat was the major topic, but their dilemma was that none of them could figure out why he was so important. They were all guessing wrong until I finally had enough and blurted out from two tables over that he was the Republican House Majority Leader.

The Villa Grove Trade Store sits on scenic Hwy 285, which is essentially to main and only street in town. The stores cafe offers a wonderful breakfast burrito which I order every time I'm there, and I've been vacationing in that area for many summers.

The Villa Grove Trade Store sits on scenic Hwy 285, which is essentially the main and only street in town. The store’s cafe offers a wonderful breakfast burrito which I order every time I’m there, and I’ve been vacationing in that area for many summers. A regular group of locals meets there every morning for coffee, politics, and anything else that comes to mind. (Photo by Jeff Shook)

 

Poor Cantor – he was hardly known by anyone outside Washington right up to his political end. But it’s not his professional end. He not only quickly resigned his leadership position but, as of August 18, his district seat as well. He’s going to make millions on Wall Street, officially working for those whom he’s been effectively working for all along.

 

In a dictatorship, there is only one way to do things. The four-year Republican majority in the House has been wasting time scheming to privatize or end the social safety net, voting repeatedly to repeal the newly acquired health insurance for eight million Americans, trying to eliminate all abortion options for women, attacking Hillary Clinton, and shutting down the government. Therefore, little time has remained to deal with much of anything else. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the Senate, while a minority, use the filibuster rule to require a 60 percent vote to move anything along, so nothing’s being done there either. It’s their way or no way.

 

In a democracy, all the people are supposed to have a voice. But if one of two major parties, like the Fox-Republican-TEA Party, decides to become the Party of No – as it did after Obama’s 2008 election – then we no longer have a democracy. Politics is the art of compromise, and compromise is the only way that democracy works. The former GOP has been taken over by Kamikazes, anarchists, and sociopaths who work solely for themselves and their wealthy donors, like the Koch brothers. Our former democracy has been replaced with a plutocracy.

 

For our democratic-republic to ever work again, we need a loyal opposition, not saboteurs. Sadly, we aren’t going to see any more Howard Bakers anytime soon. I’m reminded of what one of those guys at the Villa Grove Trade Store said: “The Republican Party won’t be able to properly function again until it gets rid of the TEA Party, like bad case of diarrhea.”

Part of the Valley View Hot Springs rustic resort. It's located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and overlooks the San Luis Valley. This is a view from the highest soaking pool. The gravel road in the valley leads to Hwy. 285 which leads northward to Villa Grove, CO.

Part of the Valley View Hot Springs rustic resort. It’s located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and overlooks the San Luis Valley. This is a view from the highest soaking pool. The gravel road in the valley leads to Hwy. 285 which leads northward to Villa Grove, CO (about 10-12 miles from the springs to the town).

 

by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published in the August 28, 2014, edition of the Arkansas Times as a letter to the editor and in the August 29, 2014, edition of the El Dorado News-Times as a Guest Column.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for reminding me about Howard Baker. I remembered him from the Watergate hearings but had forgotten most of the rest, so I had to do a little reading to get up to speed.

    After leaving office, Baker founded a conservative think-tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center. The BPC has advocated standard conservative policies like RomneyCare-OCare, deficit reduction, PAYGO, drill-baby-drill, stirring up war against Iran, intervening in Yemen, and expanding the police state. It’s only bipartisan in the sense that many members of both parties support those conservative policies.

    It’s my understanding that Cantor lost his primary mainly because he was willing to cooperate with Democrats on immigration to please our 1% owners who wish to have an abundance of cheap labor?

    Cantor and the Republicans have not obstructed Obama on any substantive issue. They mostly agree on free trade, they mostly agree on deregulation, they mostly agree on domestic austerity, they mostly agree on American exceptionalism, they mostly agree on neocon wars of aggression, and they mostly agree on the imperial presidency — even claiming that the President has the right to assassinate American citizens. They certainly agree on supporting apartheid and genocide in Israel, they agree on the police state, they agree on drill-baby-drill, and so forth. D’s and R’s sometimes pretend to fight, like on the budget battle, but that is just play acting. The truth is that they both support domestic austerity, including cuts to SS & Medicare, but they pretend to disagree so they can blame unpopular cuts on the other party.

    However, we do have to give Republicans credit for obstructing Obama’s proposed cuts to SS & Medicare. It’s not that they opposed the cuts per se, but they objected to the tax increases that Obama insisted on bundling with the benefit cuts.

    Re: the filibuster rule. Democrats have the power to end the non-talking filibuster with a simple majority vote. As you know, Democrats did recently change the filibuster rule with regards to judicial appointments (which you wrote was a bad idea when Republicans proposed it during Bush’s presidency) but only so they could get their 1% pals confirmed. Democrats are willing to change the Senate rules to help their pals but not to help the 99%.

    Re: “Our former democracy has been replaced with a plutocracy.” I agree that America is a plutocracy, but as Howard Zinn pointed out, it was designed that way. The New Deal-Great Society era was an anomoly, driven by the threat of revolution during the Great Depression and by ideological competion with Communism after WWII. After the Soviet Union collapsed there was no longer any idealogical threat from the left and our 1% owners no longer had any reason to support the New Deal social contract. In my humble opinion, that is the main issue driving our government’s lurch to the right.

    As always, I enjoy the way you weave history and current events, David. :-)


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