Last month I argued that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was doing more harm to the national interest, or at least doing so more noticeably, than any of his Republican or Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Events during the budget/debt-ceiling "negotiations" suggest that he was just getting started back then. By comparison with Cantor, Speaker John Boehner has shown a touching national-interest big-heartedness. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no fan of bipartisan agreement, has at least based his hyper-complex "make the President do it" debt-ceiling scheme on the premise that the nation should not be forced into default -- not even on a Democratic president's watch.
But Cantor? As Jonathan Bernstein and Matthew Yglesias have pointed out, he has gone straight from the White House-Congressional negotiating sessions, prepared a slide show (you can see it here) purportedly based on their contents, and used it to encourage House Republicans to pocket all of the hypothetical concessions the Administration has discussed while making none of their own. As Yglesias says:
>>[I]t's important to appreciate that this kind of partial leaking of the contents of negotiations has the tendency to poison the atmosphere. The whole reason that "nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to" is that to reach a bargain you need to have a pretty open and flexible discussion. If everyone in the room knows that Cantor has no compunction about misrepresenting every discussion as an agreement, it merely makes it that much harder for people to negotiate in a serious way.<<
And, from Bernstein:
>>I'm struggling to find strong enough words for just how irresponsibly Cantor is acting. Massively irresponsible? Unthinkably irresponsible? Newt-level irresponsible?<<
It's easy to forget at times like these, but the whole ponderous U.S. political/governmental system is made of actual human beings, who -- even as they respond to large-scale ideological, political, financial, and interest-group pressures -- can still choose to behave better, or worse, in a given set of circumstances. And the difference between good and bad behavior can make a difference. (If JFK's national security council had been much more hair-trigger and impatient during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or if Khrushchev had been, world history would have been different.)
And if a leading party in a very important set of negotiations has shown that he'll walk right out of the "bargaining" room, release a distorted version of what has just been discussed, and use it to whip us his side to more demands, that makes a difference too. For the worse. The prospects for an agreement now are worse because of Rep. Cantor's presence in them. That's not because he's a conservative -- so, obviously, are Boehner and McConnell. It's because he's acting like a weasel.