Eric Cantor lost because he forgot the name of the job.
Instead of using the victory of conservative David Brat as one more chance for the Democratic Party Auxiliary – a.k.a. the “news” media – to shout about “extremists” in the “tea party,” it might help if we look at what actually happened.
Eric Cantor got very good at representing the interests of the Republican leadership in the House, but not so good at representing the interests of the 7th District of Virginia. And his fall is not an insight into Republican politics, it is a lesson on what’s wrong with both of our parties and our current culture of political ambition and conformity.
Eric Cantor forgot that the name of the job is “representative.” The concept is simple and inspired, and laid out in our Constitution. The nation is divided into geographic areas called “districts.” Each district elects one of its residents to go to Washington as a member of the House of Representatives.
In the House, that representative is to advance the interests and ideas of his or her district. In a nation of “We, the people,” the members of Congress are to be the functional voices and servants of the people. They are delegates sent not to stand for a party or themselves, but for the people of their district.
It is what makes us a Republic. It is what safeguards our freedom.
It is also, sadly, a concept forgotten by a large percentage of the members of Congress.
Instead of representing the people of their district, they become soldiers for their party, for cliques of leadership, for contributors, for special causes and movements.
And they forget the real job.
And cheat democracy by doing so.
What happened last night is that the Republican voters in the 7th District of Virginia reminded Eric Cantor – and America’s political class – of the job definition.
Eric Cantor was exceptionally skilled at the House’s leadership game. He was a true-blue Republican soldier. He knew how to do TV and he knew how to play Obama and he knew how to cozy up to the big, national GOP funders.
But along the way he forgot how to represent his neighbors in the 7th District.
He ended up representing things, interests and people other than the ones which had sent him to Washington in the first place. His district isn’t that far geographically from Washington, but philosophically it’s a million miles away.
And he got spanked.
Just as he should have.
Let’s hope the end of his political career gives pause to other members of Congress, and reminds them of their true duties and real obligations.
Forget kissing up to party leadership. Forget voting in lockstep with the leadership and the caucus. Forget the national groups with their money and agendas. Escape the net of Washington-centered thought and focus laser-like on the interests, uniquenesses and priorities of the district.
Eric Cantor’s approach to Congress was ideally suited to the network news and the big-city papers. His priorities and interests resounded with editorial boards and in hardwood conference rooms. The serious people wanted to know what he thought about immigration policy and global warming. He was a pretty boy hoping to claw his way to the top. He probably had his wife call him “Mr. Speaker” around the house.
But now he’ll have a lot more time to arrange his clippings and scrapbooks. Maybe he’ll write a book or run for president.
In the whirlwind of being Eric Cantor, he forgot who sent him to Congress and why. The priorities of the people at home drifted away in the “serious business” of Washington. He got better at conversations with the president than with the folks back home.
He became a creature of Washington.
Now he can live there fulltime.
That’s what happened last night. That’s the lesson of his defeat.
America actually is a diverse country. Every place is different. We’ve all got our own perspective. This place isn’t like that place, and the homogenized, one-size-fits-all approach of both parties is wrong. It short circuits representation and cheats democracy. It muffles the American chorus.
He lost for the same reason anybody loses, he didn’t represent the home folks.
Others in Congress should remember that.
Who do you work for?
The people in Washington, or the people at home?