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Cantor promoting pragmatic positions
Perhaps a fuller picture of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is about to emerge

 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Henrico, strikes a different tone.
ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/AP
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Date published: 1/31/2013

By Ed Jones

IT TURNS out that Eric Cantor may not be the two-dimensional villain you so often see characterized in the national media.

The House majority leader was portrayed this week in The New York Times, not exactly a bastion of right-wing orthodoxy, as a polished political practitioner who would like to see the Republican Party broaden the national debate beyond the dollars and cents of deficits.

Indeed, Cantor is talking about helping struggling single mothers in poor neighborhoods educate their gifted children. He's expected to push for health-care options that go beyond saying no to the president's plan. He speaks of "sane immigration policies."

What gives?

Finally, the Eric Cantor presented by the national media is beginning to mesh with the Eric Cantor I've conversed with during several editorial board meetings at The Free Lance-Star. Far from a one-note naysayer, he has come across in those sessions as a thoughtful and informed political leader who values principles but also is willing to practice pragmatism.

My observations have nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with Cantor on his ideology or his specific stances on issues. My point is that the Cantor caricature in the national media seemed to be out of line with the person I've met.

That's a concern, because it goes right to the heart of media credibility. Are the media capturing the fullness of political leaders or are they reducing them to bit players in a political melodrama? A counter question would point the finger in Cantor's direction: How much has he followed up on his pragmatic talk?

Even so, the media coverage has definitely seemed to tilt negative. So many of the accounts about Cantor, whose district includes a portion of the Fredericksburg area, have portrayed him as a self-serving ladder-climber who finds different ways to say "no" to every reasonable proposal or as a would-be Brutus, out to betray his Caesar: House Speaker John Boehner.

Indeed, even this week's piece in the Times alludes to Cantor's "softer" initiatives in the context of his maneuvering to succeed Boehner, as well as his perceived competition with a potential rival for speaker--2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

I can't read Cantor's mind. I have no idea how much of his new push has to do with politicking, and how much it has to do with being a conscientious public servant. Perhaps the party's disappointing election year has forced a more moderate agenda on its leaders.

But I do find the evidence lacking that Cantor is little more than a hatchet man for the right. It's aggravating enough to put up with petty partisan arguments on Capitol Hill. We certainly don't need the media to ape that conduct by turning the back-and-forth into a morality play with heroes and villains.

Maybe Cantor is about to rise above the negative portrayals that have defined his political persona. When the media sets the bar this low, it doesn't take a whole lot to exceed it.

Ed Jones: 540/374-5401
Email: edjones@freelancestar.com