Yglesias

Who Cares If Eric Cantor’s Grandmother Was Poor?

“Son of a millworker / son of a tenant farmer” stuff about your hardscrabble upbringing is a staple of modern campaign rhetoric. But suppose you’re Eric Cantor, son of a real estate developer and proud alumnus of a fancy prep school. Well, apparently you say you’re going to give a speech on income inequality, then you cancel the speech, then you release the text of the speech to a student newspaper and talk about your grandmother:

My grandmother eventually made her home in a working class section of my hometown of Richmond. As you can imagine, in the early 20th century, the South wasn’t often the most accepting place for a young Jewish woman. Widowed by age 30, she raised my father and uncle in a tight apartment above a tiny grocery store that she and my grandfather had opened. She worked day and night and sacrificed tremendously to secure a better future for her sons. 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, her faith and thrift, she was even able to send her two sons to college. All she wanted was a chance – a fair shot at making a better life for her two sons. And if she were still alive today, I know she would be blown away to know that her grandson is not only a Member of the U.S. Congress, but now the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Who cares? I mean, good for his grandmother but what does this have to do with anything? Is a modern-day working mother hoping to put her kids through college supposed to hope that the relative price of tuition suddenly falls to 1950s levels? What insights has this second-hand experience of poverty given Cantor that others lack? It’s easy to understand why first-hand experience might give you a different perspective. But what Cantor seems to have learned from his grandmothers’ efforts is that high end marginal income tax rates need to be made much lower than they were at the time she was pulling herself up by her bootstraps.