July 19, 2011 | 4:09 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Attacks on Eric Cantor are gaining steam. Harry Reid called him childish. Many in the media have portrayed him as the obstinate Republican who will destroy American credit by blocking a deal on raising the debt ceiling. But for those of us who feel constantly ripped off by a government addicted to irresponsible spending, he is a hero.
I know Eric personally. He is a modest, focused, and unassuming man who speaks up with something important and wise to contribute. But beneath the calm exterior is a steely core which President Obama is now brushing up against first hand. This is not a man whom you can intimidate. He is not flashy and is not desperate to be loved. He pursues principles rather than popularity contests. A man of faith and conviction, his salt-of-the-earth values stem from his upbringing in Richmond to a family with deep communal involvement. They are committed Jews who till today serve in leadership positions in Synagogues and educational establishments. Eric’s mother is a warm Southern matron with a caring smile who converses freely and kindly. You could never guess that she has a son in high position of power.
But what is most responsible for Eric’s meteoric rise to House Majority Leader is that he is a people person. When you write to him, no matter how busy, he writes back. When you speak to him in his office, he listens attentively and he seeks to learn from all whom he meets. I remember feeling, the first time we met, that I was in the presence of the consummate Southern gentleman.
And because he’s a people person he knows that people are plain fed up. We work hard to support our families and raise good kids. We feel let down by undisciplined politicians who think the American tax-payer is a piggy bank. We’re drained from bloated government waste. Yes, we want America to be a compassionate country that takes care of the needy at home and fights bad guys overseas. But we’re tired of being pawns in a game of vote-buying by political figures appealing to special interests. We feel no guilt at protecting that which we have legitimately earned and we want our generous charitable giving to be at our own, rather than the government’s discretion.
Those who criticize Eric for refusing to raise taxes accuse him of harming America over a financial issue. They forget that the American revolution was a call to resistance against unfair taxation. And while the circumstances were, of course, different, and the British levied taxes without giving us elected members of parliament, the principle remains the same: fair taxation, by the will of the people, that inspires citizens to live by the sweat of their brow.
The national debt has increased by a third in the two-and-a-half years since Barack Obama became President. Is the solution to closing this gap really to tax us more rather than to finally reign in spending?
We Americans are taxed up the wazoo. We are taxed when we wake up and we are taxed when we sleep. We are taxed when we breathe and we are taxed, ironically, when we stop breathing. We are taxed when we work and we are taxed when we rest. Yet still, our governments is bankrupt.
Aside from Federal, State (in New Jersey it’s nearly 10%), and local tax, owning a home requires me to pay exorbitant property taxes of which not a single dollar can go to my children’s education because they are in a private Jewish day school. You’d think that some of my tax money could go to their school’s mathematics or social studies departments, which are not religious. But I and other religious parents across the nation are being bankrupted by high property taxes and high tuition rates that are becoming unaffordable. So were we to feel when we read in The New York Times in early 2009 that President Obama’s trillion dollar stimulus package forced public schools who did not request nor require stimulus funds to accept the money and spend it? We middle-class Americans are paying about half all we earn to the government. On top of that we want to give charity. Is it reasonable to ask for more?
Yes, we’re fed up. President Obama can storm out of all the meetings he wants with Cantor. But he cannot break the man because Cantor is backed by people who are already broken and who have had enough.
Amid a flawed nature and an imperfect character I try to live by the values of justice and compassion. I believe in helping all those who are in need, and Lord knows, I have been in need at times of my life as well. But I also know that greater even than the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter is that of human dignity, which derives from self-sufficiency. Dignity accrues to the man or woman who, with G-d’s blessings, provides for their family’s daily bread. The role of government is to facilitate the acquisition of human dignity by giving men and women the opportunities to be self-sufficient. In life we all seek redemption. But we wish for it to come through our own devices.
A bloated, nannie-state government is an impediment to that self-sufficiency. We want teachers who are effective rather than teachers who are guaranteed jobs which stunts student development and undermines the dignity of faculty. We want unions who understand that collective bargaining that drains a government’s coffers is bad for workers as well as for business.
I have had jobs and I have lost jobs. But the last thing I want is to be kept on in a job because I am pitied. If I have had to lean on others in difficult times – and I have – it has eroded by self-esteem and I have therefore endeavored to get back on my own feet rather than develop, G-d forbid, a stultifying and painful dependency. The sentiment is best captured in a beautiful Jewish prayer, recited on the graves of the righteous: “May my sustenance be conveyed to me by Your hand and may it be sweet. May it not be conveyed to me by the hands of mortals, for then it would be as bitter and tough as wormwood and shamefully degrading. Therefore may You, in Your abundant mercies, prepare my sustenance from Your good and full hand, and may it be complete.”
Hence, my support for Eric Cantor. He, more than anyone else currently in government, is the dam holding back the torrent of spending that would deepen our national depth and increase the unhealthy dependency that government sometimes creates. His efforts may not be fully appreciated now, but in cutting government waste he will earn the gratitude of the American people for saving our country from financial calamity and saving the rest of us from the plundering of private pockets to facilitate that oblivion.
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