US House majority leader calls for equality of opportunity in Rice speech

BY FRANZ BROTZEN AND AMY HODGES
Rice News staff

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told an audience at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Nov. 10 that the country needs equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

“Instead of talking about a fair share, or spending time trying to push those at the top down, elected leaders in Washington should be trying to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at the opportunity to earn success up the ladder,” he said.

Much of Cantor’s speech was directed at the current criticism of growing wealth disparities in the United States. “There are those who want to divide America by turning those with less against those with more,” he said, a move that “tends to deflate the aspirational spirit of our people and fade the American dream.”

Photo by: Jeff Fitlow House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told an audience at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Nov. 10 that the country needs equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

“It cannot simply be about wealth redistribution,” Cantor continued. “You don’t just take from the guy at the top and give to the guy at the bottom and expect our problems to be solved.”

As an alternative, Cantor urged “a hand up, not a hand out.” He called for a return to the foundation of “hard work, faith, family and opportunity that provides each of us with the prospects of unlimited potential in America.” He stressed the importance of the private sector, especially small businesses, in stimulating growth that can lead to “wealth mobility,” which he argued will address wealth disparity.

Cantor said the bottom line is “all about lowering the threshold for entry into the marketplace, leveling the playing field. We need to get government out of the way so investors are more freely able to invest in a startup or a business.”

Cantor was elected to the House of Representatives in 2001. He quickly rose through the Republican leadership ranks and, after the 2010 midterm elections, was elected as the majority leader for the 112th Congress.

During his Baker Institute speech, he often took aim at the federal government and policies that he maintained have blocked economic growth. “What has Washington done wrong to make so many rightfully resent it?” he asked. “Too often our politics, our government have become obstacles to American progress and prosperity.”

“We must protect that fair shot that no matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone has access to an opportunity to earn their success,” Cantor said. “The basis upon which America was founded and thrives is providing people with the equality of opportunity — not equality of outcome. “

“This distinction is important,” he continued. “It is the tipping point between what America has always been — and still is, though less and less — and what some want America to become.”

President David Leebron introduced Cantor and set the stage for the forum. “As an institution of higher learning, Rice welcomes free and open discussion of the important issues of the day, and we encourage many points of view about those issues,” he said. “This openness to varied positions and opinions reflects our values of community and respect, which are essential aspects of the fabric that draws us together as a university.”

However, when Cantor began his speech, he was interrupted by protesters using a scripted chant. When it became apparent that the protestors intended to disrupt the event for a significant amount of time, Rice police escorted them from the building.

Following his speech, Cantor answered questions during a Q-and-A session, which was led off by Rice student leaders. Georgia Lagoudas, a Lovett College senior and president of the Student Association, thanked Cantor for speaking at Rice.

“We’re very excited that you’re here today, and that we have the opportunity to talk with you,” Lagoudas said. “Many of our students are aspiring leaders and look up to you, so thank you for coming today.”

Graduate Student Association Representative Kenneth Evans followed with a question about the future of research funding and opportunities for scientists such as himself. As Cantor responded, he emphasized the importance of fostering an environment where innovation is supported and new talent is inspired to come study and work in the United States.

“When you think about where we’re headed this century as a country and how we’re going to continue to lead, we are going to lead by being innovators,” Cantor said. “We need to make sure that government is not the one that determines who can and can’t succeed – we need an even playing field for everyone. We need the best and brightest people coming here and staying here.”

Prior to his speech, Cantor met with Rice faculty, students, trustees, alumni and administrators during an hourlong roundtable discussion. The discussion included issues such as funding for research, support for higher education and the federal budget deficit and debt. During the discussion, Cantor lauded research universities like Rice, calling them part of America’s “crown jewels.”

“I think it’s a pretty well accepted fact globally that we have the world’s best research universities and institutes, which is why so many people come here to be trained and earn degrees,” Cantor said.

The event was hosted by Rice University’s Office of Public Affairs and the Baker Institute.

To view the speech in its entirety, go to http://youtu.be/J2ngRiqWFs4.

About Rice News Staff

The Rice News is produced weekly by the Office of Public Affairs at Rice University.