Protest causes GOP leader to cancel income inequality speech

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, October 21, 2011 17:03 EDT
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Update: University disputes Cantor’s explanation for cancellation

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) canceled a planned speech about income inequality on Friday, after learning that his hosts at the University of Pennsylvania planned to make the event open to the public.

The speech, largely anticipated to be the first major Republican response to the rapidly growing 99 Percent movement, was being targeted by “Occupy” activists for a major march and rally. University officials planned to let the first 300 people in line attend the speech, and protesters had been waiting hours for that opportunity.

Rather than face them, Cantor canceled the speech just hours before it was to go on. His aides supposedly did not know it would be open to the public when he decided to give the speech, and they were worried the crowd would be almost entirely protesters.

In a later update, however, the University of Pennsylvania issued a statement insisting that the speech had always been billed as “open to the general public” and adding, “We very much regret if there was any misunderstanding with the Majority Leader’s office on the staging of his presentation.”

In a stroke of luck, Cantor’s abrupt cancellation came just one day after the U.S. Social Security Administration said that 50 percent of U.S. workers made less than $26,364 last year. That detail would only seem to only add fuel to the protests, which largely cite the growing income disparity between rich and poor, and the corruption on Wall Street that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

Cantor has previously called 99 Percent activists “growing mobs” that want to pit Americans against Americans. In speech excerpts obtained by Politico, the Republican leader was apparently prepared to double down on that point.

“There are politicians and others who want to demonize people that have earned success in certain sectors of our society,” he was planning to say. “They claim that these people have now made enough, and haven’t paid their fair share. But, pitting Americans against one another tends to deflate the aspirational spirit of our people and fade the American dream. I believe that the most successful among us are positioned to use their talents to help grow our economy and give everyone a hand up the ladder and the dignity of a job.”

Cantor and virtually all congressional Republicans have adamantly resisted raising the wealthiest Americans’ tax rates, which are currently at historic lows in spite of a massive budget deficit and growing national debt.

The vast majority of Americans, and even a majority of Republicans, are in favor of asking the wealthy to share in the nation’s sacrifice — something President Barack Obama has proposed repeatedly, only to see his ideas shot down in Congress.

Photo: Medill DC.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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