This is Cantor’s big chance to become a historical figure — or a punching bag. He and his fellow (very) conservative Republicans stand on the brink of doing in their era what Hoover did in his. They could, just as Hoover did, stick to their ideological guns and let the economy go down the drain. They will be pure. We will be broke.

They could insist on a balanced budget at precisely the time when economic conditions require deficit spending. On paper, everything will look good. In reality, the economy will tank. They could continue to extoll the wholly exaggerated virtues of small business and tailor tax cuts for them, and the budget would suffer and few jobs would be created. They could sink the bond market, rattle investors both domestic and foreign, make states suffer on less federal aid, weaken the dollar and convince Martians that they don’t want to come here. But they would, as did Hoover, take solace in adhering to an ideology that was proved disastrously wrong in the last century. No reason, it seems, not to do it all over again.

In truth, Cantor is no Hoover. The late president was an emotional block of ice, cruelly battered by a deprived and Dickensian childhood. He was a great businessman, a master organizer and mobilizer, but when he went to apply the principles that made him rich to the federal government, he found they were irrelevant. Still, he tried and tried and tried. He was not a bad man. He was merely a bad president.


Cantor, by contrast, seems an affable sort. He represents a very conservative Virginia district and must vote accordingly, although nothing in the preceding should be interpreted as suggesting that Cantor is in the least disagreement with the people who elected him. This makes him the perfect and suitable choice — the No. 2 Republican in the House, after all — to become the face and the name of the coming economic debacle — maybe even an update of Irving Berlin’s old Depression ditty: “Mr. Eric Cantor says that now’s the time to buy/ so let’s have another cup of coffee and let’s have another piece of pie.”