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Bob Franken: The meaning test

Posted: June 14, 2014 - 5:24pm

Back in the day, when I was a TV reporter, I had this fantasy live shot where the anchor would toss it to me with “And now, here is Bob Franken with a report on what it all means. Bob, what does it all mean?”

“Nothing, Scott. It means absolutely nothing.”

Which brings us to the surprise loss by Eric Cantor. Ever since the House majority leader got knocked off by obscure tea-party-backed (pardon the redundancy) college professor David Brat, the political sharks and their symbiotic pundits have been in a frenzy. If we were to take all the hyperventilating to heart, the Cantor upset is the end of civilization as we now know it.

Well, in the immortal words of Bart Simpson: “Don’t have a cow, man!” This will be considered outright heresy inside the Beltway, but Eric Cantor’s upset will NOT end civilization as we know it. A hundred years from now, no one will remember that the House majority leader got taken out in his party’s primary. In fact, it’ll be less than a hundred hours before we contrive some new crisis.

Stuff happens. Eight-hundred-pound gorillas get felled by guerrillas every once in a while, and frankly, the House majority leader really is more like a 400-pound gorilla. So, we need to get a grip. Those commentators who are filling the news black hole by declaring that Cantor’s defeat means that immigration reform doesn’t have a chance this year need a reminder that immigration reform never really had a chance this year. The gridlock will stay the same.

Those Republican leaders who were suggesting it was possible were either pretending in an effort to win over some gullible Hispanic voters or they were on some sort of drug. If they thought they could soften the hard-line bias of their base, they were obviously popping Deludes. Eric Cantor was one of those trying to straddle the middle.

Big mistake. There is no middle. In fact, a new Pew Research poll tells us what we already know: We are so badly split that 27 percent of the Democrats responding “see the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being,” while 36 percent of Republicans have the same view of Democrats.

We could describe everyone else as the “Disgusted Majority.” Come to think of it, they are the ones who sank Eric Cantor. So maybe there actually was a little meaning to his demise. That, plus the lesson that even in politics there’s such a thing as too much hubris. Or ineptitude.

Cantor believed his consultants, who assured him that he didn’t have to sweat the election, that it was a done deal. It turned out to be a dumb deal, and now his operatives are doing what they do best: deflecting blame, complaining that it was the Democrats’ fault. Democrats are delightedly pleading guilty. Virginia is an open primary state, which means you don’t have to be registered in one party to vote in its election. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book of mischief for the other side to try to bring down a candidate. In this case, former Congressman Ben Jones was very public about encouraging his fellow Democrats to do just that. And they did. Chances are Cantor’s hired guns won’t be putting this campaign in their resumes.

This is just another case of the ambitious up-and-comer suddenly turning into a down-and-outer. The next chapter in the story is that Eric Cantor will run for high office again. Until then, he’ll probably get a TV gig and collect a ton of money making speeches. The rest of us will continue the eternal search for meaning.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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