Eric Cantor criticizes 'wealth redistribution' and Occupy protesters during University of Michigan speech
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Inside the University of Michigan League, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, spoke of the opportunity of Americans to move up “the economic ladder.”
Outside, a group of about 70 students and Ann Arbor residents protested a perceived economic inequality that they say makes it too difficult to climb that ladder.
The House majority leader gave a speech today at the Michigan League in Ann Arbor as a part of a lecture series at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
“Social justice is about fairness. Fairness is making sure that we afford opportunities for everyone to pursue their happiness,” Cantor said. “There are several folks that have stood up to say tax the rich. That that’s somehow fair.”
“That all we have to do is redistribute the wealth and we can create the American dream for more.” he continued. “That doesn’t work wealth distribution doesn’t work.”
A group of protesters —including activists from the Occupy Ann Arbor movement— stood outside the League denouncing Cantor’s political and economic policies. Another dozen stood in protest after Cantor finished his speech.
They held signs saying ‘Cantor works for the 1 percent, who will work for the 99 percent?’ and ‘R.I.P. Workers Rights’ and yelled phrases such as “Eric Cantor trick-or-treat, give us some more flesh to eat.”
During a press conference afterward, Cantor criticized the movement.
“To me if you’ve got a problem you ought to go about trying to fix it in a constructive manner,” he said.
Cantor also rebuked the negative rhetoric that some protesters use.
“Lets not pit one against another we shouldn’t root for anyone to be torn down,” he said before the audience, adding that while he understands the “frustration” of protesters, “ire and hatred toward certain people is not something that is constructive and I don’t think it’s reflective of the majority of America.”
Cantor recently canceled a speech he was scheduled to give at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business because activists affiliated with the Occupy Philadelphia movement planned a large-scale protest of the speech.
“We come to speak to students, that’s why we’re here at the University of Michigan,” Cantor said. “The decision in Philly had to do with the fact that there were going to be no students to speak of in the 350-seat auditorium, instead professional protesters.”
At U-M, event attendance was open to both students and non-students, but limited to 250 people.
At today’s speech, Cantor avoided questions about same-sex marriage, calling the issue “controversial” and saying that “I just believe in traditional marriage.”
He also admonished against blaming a particular party for the nation’s deficit, saying “there’s enough blame to go around on all sides.”
The crux of Cantor’s speech, however, concerned his view of social and economic mobility, something he calls "America's economic ladder."
He spoke of his Jewish grandmother fleeing religious persecution in Europe when she chose to move to America.
“My grandmother faced a future where no matter how hard she worked, no matter how hard she studied, no matter how smart she was, there were limits There was only so far she could go,” he said. “But our country is not like that. America offered opportunity.”
Cantor said that politicians in Washington should be concerned with “providing people with equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.”
Cantor, who has served in the house since 2001 and was elected majority leader in January, was originally scheduled to speak in February, but cancelled due to inclement weather. His daughter, Jenna, is a sophomore at U-M.
U-M President Mary Sue Coleman praised the university’s “appreciation of different view points and political philosophies” before introducing Cantor.
“We take seriously our obligation to open the world to our students,” Coleman said.
U-M student and protester Ian Matchett said that he and his fellow picketers didn't "want to let Eric Cantor come to our campus unopposed."
"The university is trying to frame it like he's a respected public figure and we should just be happy to have him at our campus," he said. "And we want to make it clear that, though he may be a large voice in the national discourse, he's not a great or respectable voice."
Max Heller, a junior business major at U-M, said the speech had “particular relevance to members of our generation.”
“The congressmen tried to provide a place for students to ask questions and I am glad that members of the community who were so interested participated,” he said.
Joseph Tobianski I AnnArbor.com