House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday unveiled what his office called a “pro-growth economic plan” in a speech at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. If the speech only exemplified one of the basic definitions of “cant”—”insincere or almost meaningless talk used merely from convention or habit”—that would be bad enough. But this speech was worse in its peddling of false propaganda in the service of a failed ideology.
It badly needs a rewrite. So I’ve taken a few choice excerpts from the speech in an effort to take them from the level of cant to something closer to what Cantor said he was offering—an actual “pro-growth economic plan.”
• “In preparation for this speech, I read Herbert Hoover’s 1959 statement to the Board of Trustees of Stanford University on the mission of the Hoover Institution and I was struck by this passage: “This Institution supports the Constitution of the United States, its Bill of Rights and its method of representative government. Both our social and economic systems are based on private enterprise from which springs initiative and ingenuity….” That is the essence of what I want to talk about today.
Cantor could have opened this way: “In preparation for this speech, I read how Herbert Hoover as president said many of the things that we Republicans in the House are saying—that a time when the economy is down and people are out of work is the time that government must shrink itself and get out of the way. Then private enterprise will step in and produce jobs and prosperity for everyone. (I also read that in 1928 Hoover said, “It is just as important that business keep out of government as that government keep out of business.” But no one said Hoover was perfect.)
“Anyway, I was struck by the fact that as we head in the same direction Hoover headed in the early days of the Great Depression—budget cuts, forced austerity, a blind eye to the struggles of ordinary people and the things that government can do to lay the conditions for a new economy to emerge from the ashes of the old—we just might reach the same destination: a weaker economy, higher unemployment, an even more devastated middle class.”
• “Why is Washington smothering new job and business growth instead of nurturing an environment where more people are working and America is more productive? Here’s how we can stop limping and start running. We start by making America competitive again in the area of business taxation. It’s wrong that American companies are paying taxes at rates that are 50% higher than even those in Europe.”
Here’s my rewrite: “We start by making America competitive again by making corporations pay their fair share of taxes, so that we can then support the public institutions and infrastructure that enabled them to succeed in the first place. Did you know that ExxonMobil earned more than $19 billion in profits in 2009 but did not pay a dime in federal income taxes? In fact, the federal government gave ExxonMobil $156 million! Let’s stop lying about companies paying taxes that are higher than those in Europe. It’s not true for General Electric, it’s not true for Bank of America, and it’s not true for hundreds of other big corporations.
“Citizens for Tax Justice points out that the Bush administration’s Treasury Department noted that from 2000-2005 corporations paid an average tax rate of 13.4 percent, lower than the average of 16 percent in other developed countries. Walmart, though, pays a tax bill that’s more than twice that, and it’s having no problem investing in new stores and creating jobs. In fact, in the nation’s capital it’s preparing to open four new stores by 2012.
“So let’s stop the demagoguery about overtaxed corporations and have a dialogue instead about a tax code that taxes all people fairly. A tax system in which a billionaire like Warren Buffett pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary is not fair, and an unfair tax code, one that’s riddled with loopholes, perverse incentives and ways to game the system, keeps us limping and unproductive.”
• “Free trade is another area where we can become much more competitive right now. So, why is President Obama sidelining America by holding up trade agreements when our foreign competitors are making them?”
The answer to that question lies in the fact that Republican-supported “free trade” agreements have not worked out so well for either the United States or some of our trading partners, such as Mexico. For this section of the speech I’d call on my colleague Dave Johnson, who this week asked, “Why Move Jobs from Democracies to Thugocracies?”
“Trade doesn’t have to be used to pit people against each other,” he wrote. “It can be used to lift each other up. We can instead negotiate treaties to demand that the thugocracies offer better wages and protections, or they can’t sell to us. Or if they do sell to us as add a tariff that undoes any advantage they get from mistreating their people, and use the money to strengthen our infrastructure and competitiveness in world markets. We can use trade to lift the world for the benefit of all instead of to exploit the world for the benefit of a few.”
• “High taxes and trade barriers aren’t the only things holding American businesses back. The Small Business Administration admits that government regulations are estimated to cost our economy over $1.75 trillion a year.”
Once again, give me rewrite: “I know you’ve heard the story about the SBA ‘admission’ that government regulations cost small businesses $1.75 trillion. I’ve read the report, including the disclaimer, “the final conclusions of the report do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Advocacy” at the Small Business Administration. So this is the view of two conservative scholars who were backers of Sen. John McCain’s economic platform during his presidential campaign. Plus, the report’s methodology is seriously flawed.
“In any event, you can’t talk about regulatory costs without also talking about regulatory benefits. The failure to adequately regulate Wall Street erased trillions of dollars of wealth from hard-working individuals and families. Home values depressed, millions of homes foreclosed, retirement funds decimated. When the Office of Management and Budget looked at the overall cost of regulation versus benefits, it found that the value of the benefits were anywhere from twice to 11 times the costs.
So here again, let’s appreciate the value of smart regulations and acknowledge what history tells us: When we allow government to regulate for the public good, the economy prospers. When we take the regulatory cops off the
beat, the people lose—and ultimately so does business.”
• Like so many others in America, I am the grandson of immigrants. My grandmother and her family fled religious persecution to come here at the turn of the last century. Like so many of her generation in Eastern Europe, my grandmother faced a future where no matter how hard she worked, no matter how much she studied or learned, no matter how smart she was, there were limits. Just because of who she was, who her parents were and where she was born, there was only so far she could go, only so much she could do. But America wasn’t like that. My grandmother eventually made her home in a working class section of Richmond, Virginia. Widowed at a very young age, she raised my father and my uncle in tight quarters above a tiny grocery store that she ran. …
And sure enough, this young woman – who had the courage to journey to a distant land with hope as her only possession – lifted herself into the ranks of the middle class. Through hard work, thrift and faith, she was even able to send her two children to college. All she wanted was a chance – a fair shot. And if she were still alive today, she would be blown away by the fact that her grandson was not only a Member of the U.S. Congress, but the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Let’s rewrite this:
“Unless you’re a descendant of a Native American, we are all either descendants of immigrants or slaves, and let’s first acknowledge that this fundamental fact colors our experience of America. My grandmother came from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century and experienced one side of the American experience. She eventually made her home in a working class section of segregated Richmond, Va. She was able to raise my father and uncle in tight quarters above a tiny grocery store that she ran. And sure enough, she lifted herself into the ranks of the middle class. But in that same city were other residents who because of the color of their skin were experiencing in America what my grandmother was escaping in Eastern Europe: Just because of who they were, who their parents were and where they were born, there was only so far they could go, only so much they could do. It took a civil rights movement to confront the nation with this injustice, and demand that the federal government be a force for equal opportunity, to assure that everyone gets the fair shot that my grandmother got.
“But now I see a challenge that is as much a moral blight on our nation today as the moral blight of a Jim Crow Richmond in which my grandmother built her business. Today, people of all colors, and people who are recent immigrants as well as fifth-generation Americans, are finding doors of opportunity slammed in their faces. We let Wall Street run amok, and as a result 8 million jobs vanished, and today 24 million people are looking for full-time work and not finding it. But to add insult to injury, the people in my party passed a budget that would cut funding for Pell grants, so that children of struggling families will find it that much harder to get into college. It would cut funding for job training programs, so workers will lose opportunities to gain new skills for whatever jobs might be out there. It would cut state funds for economic development programs, so we won’t be able to put people to work rehabilitating abandoned properties, on green energy and energy conservation projects or a host of projects that make our communities safer and more livable. People in my party are refusing to embrace common-sense steps to set the stage for new economic prosperity, such as high-speed rail that would put hundreds of thousands of people to work right away on a network that would improve our efficiency, mobility and energy conservation—and our global economic competitiveness. And it goes on and on.
“Americans will out-work, out-hustle and, yes, out-innovate the rest of the world. Individual initiative in the private sector has been and always will be the wellspring of America’s prosperity provided we don’t stifle it with this ‘cut-and-grow’ nonsense that didn’t work for Hoover in the 1930s and won’t work in today’s economy. Winning the future will only be hard if we lose out to the ideologues, corporate sycophants and right-wing autocrats punishing our progress.
“Fifty years from now, people will look at 2011 as the year we began our comeback or the year that we continued our fallback. Let us resolve to work together to make sure that the future belongs to us.”
Joshua Ney contributed to this post.