House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had every reason to be annoyed, if not angry. He lost his seat to a professor who can’t answer basic policy questions. Loudmouthed radio show hosts repeated the lie — yes, it is — that he was “for amnesty,” when at most he favored limited reform of immigration laws with strict conditions on legalization. His conference would have driven any leader insane as backbenchers time and time again made boneheaded moves (e.g. supporting the shutdown, opposing budget deals that only got worse). And the mainstream media alternatively vilified him (e.g. in the negotiations for the Budget Control Act) and ignored his creative policy ideas. Beltway groups like Heritage Action that had nothing whatsoever to do with Cantor’s defeat congratulated themselves for championing conservatism. (As if Cantor did not.)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to resign his leadership post, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before midterm elections — with control of Congress at stake. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to resign from his leadership post, clearing the way for a potentially disruptive Republican shake-up just before midterm elections. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

But Cantor was, when it mattered most, a class act.

In talking to the press and to his fellow members, he could not have been more gracious or appreciative. He refused to play political analyst or to engage in gloom and doom. Unlike the right-wing media that often savaged him unfairly and the gleeful Beltway fan boys of the tea party, he showed deep concern for the country, levelheadedness and heartfelt optimism:

You know, growing up in the Jewish faith, you know, I grew up, went to Hebrew school, read a lot in the Old Testament, and you learn a lot about individual setbacks. But you also read and you learn that each setback is an opportunity, and that there’s always optimism for the future. And while I may have had a — suffered a personal setback [Tuesday] night, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this country.

I couldn’t — you know, I’m honored that I’ve had the privilege to serve and represent the people of Virginia’s 7th District. You know, people often lament what is wrong with this town, but I want to remind you of what’s right. You know, I’ve had the honor to serve with so many very distinguished colleagues. You know, these are the people who fly across the country every single week trying to do what they can to help their constituents live a better life, and these are members on both sides of the aisle. I can tell you I have been more than honored to serve as a part of the Republican conference and serve as their majority leader for the last several years.

Cantor showed grace in defeat — something you rarely see in politics and that is largely absent in the increasingly nasty political rhetoric fashionable these days. Compare that sentiment to the bumper sticker attacks and out-and-out misrepresentations from his critics.

At times he was inspirational, an example to those who suffer defeat:

I hope that all Republicans will put minor differences aside and help elect a Republican House and Senate so that we may all benefit from a proper check and balance that leaves our nation more secure, more prosperous and freer.

The United States of America is the greatest gift to mankind, and I’m confident that our nation will overcome every struggle, exceed every challenge, and share the message of freedom, prosperity and happiness to all liberty-seeking people around the world for decades to come.

With no rancor, he batted down some of the stupider commentary. (And there was plenty of that, as a competition for most hysterical analysis broke out, with media outlets trying to outdo one another in predicting a political apocalypse. You have expected the headline: “Cantor loses, politics as we know it ends.”)

As to the assertion that all action in the House will stop because of his defeat, he offered this: “[O]bviously this month and next we are very full on the floor with appropriations measures that my team and the committees are working on. We have got CFTC authorization. We’ve got some energy bills that’ll speak to bringing down costs for Americans who are facing the summer driving season. We’ve got a full set of bills. We’ve probably got another group of human trafficking bills to be done. The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, I believe, has announced a markup on the TRIA bill. We’ll look to do that this summer.”

Yeah, lawmaking as we know it has ended. Righhht. (Lazy political pundits might want to inquire why the House does so much and the Senate so little.)

On immigration reform, Cantor reminded pundits and politicians alike that eventually a broken system will need to be repaired. (“I think it is much more desirable and practically doable if we did it one step at a time, working towards where we have common ground and believe things in common. I don’t believe in this ‘my way or the highway’ approach that the president has laid out, and I’ve continued to take that position. I’ve said that there’s common ground at the border. There’s common ground. I would like to see the issue of the kids addressed by those that didn’t break any laws and come here unbeknownst to them.”) Oh, the horror!

As for the “establishment” vs. “tea party” meme, reporters anxious to rekindle the GOP civil war insisted that the tea party was surging once again. This was a congressional race in a single uber-conservative district in which less than 9 percent of the people voted.

Cantor reminded those who were not punch drunk on the news that intra-party divisions don’t mean much when it comes to actual issues. (“I do believe that what we have in common as Republicans is a tremendous amount of commitment to a better and smaller government, and greater opportunity and growth for everybody. And the differences that we may have are slight and pale in comparison to the differences that we have with the left and those expressing support for liberalism and a more expansive government.”)

Grace. Maturity. Magnanimity. Cantor demonstrated these virtues in spades. In doing so he reminded us that the political high ground is worth defending. And whether by design or not, he made his right-wing critics seem awfully small and the media really ridiculous.