I suppose it was maddeningly instinctual for me to try to find anti-Semitism behind Eric Cantor’s shocking primary defeat last Tuesday. There was no overt reason to believe it; after all Cantor had represented Virginia’s 7th Congressional District for over two decades, and, as John Podhoretz pointed out in Commentary, the strong evangelical presence in Cantor’s district should have been a plus, noting “…evangelicals are more likely to be philo-than anti-Semitic.”
And yet; and yet. New York Magazine’s influential critic Jerry Saltz posted on Facebook (where he has 44,000+ followers): “Last night Roberta (wife Roberta Smith, a New York Times art critic) and I kept saying “Fuckers in Virginia got rid of the Jew.” The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg, another voluble observer of the Jewish scene, agreed with Saltz and Smith and titled his most recent column, “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish? You Betcha.” In Goldberg’s take, “the prairie fire that’s turned so much of middle America red is as much about Christianity as anything else.” And, he added, “…if it’s about Christianity, then it’s also about not-Jewish.”
Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, saw the immigration crisis as the main cause of Cantor’s downfall, but offered a fascinating insight: “No one should be in party leadership who isn’t from a very safe seat. Leadership by necessity makes you look to the party as a whole, less to your district. You compromise and deal, you’re always on a plane, always fundraising, always helping someone five states away.” Which got me to wondering why in the world a man who had served seven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, and had risen to its majority leader, did not have a seat considered to be “safe.”
How is it possible that a constituency had not awarded a ‘safe seat’ to one of its own, who had risen from 10 distinguished years in the Virginia House of Delegates, to one of the top legislative positions in the country? Scores of Congressional leaders owe their longevity to the “local-boy-makes-good” trope, but, for some reason, it didn’t apply to Cantor. As Alvy Singer says, while discussing his hyper-sensitivity to anti-Semitism in Annie Hall “I pick up on those kind o’ things.”
Morton Landowne is the executive director of Nextbook Inc.