William & Mary

Remarks of Congressman Eric Cantor J.D. '88 at W&M's 2011 Charter Day

  • Coming home
    Coming home  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)spoke at William & Mary's 2011 Charter Day Ceremony. Cantor received his J.D. from William & Mary Law School in 1988.  Photo by Suzanne Seurattan
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The following are the transcribed remarks of Congressman Eric Cantor J.D. '88 at W&M's 2011 Charter Day Ceremony - Ed.

President Reveley, the Board of Visitors, faculty, administration, alumni, friends of William & Mary, thank you.

It is a real honor for me to stand here before you and receive this honorary degree from this incredible institution.  It’s always been really wonderful for me to be a part of the tradition of William & Mary.  And Professor Barnard, I can only tell you that when you come and visit places in your past, you definitely learn some things.  I know that I learned a lot under your tutelage and I congratulate you in receiving your award along with the other recipients today.  Suffice to say I loved my years here at Williamsburg at the W&M Law School.

A few weeks ago in Washington, I had the privilege of meeting with President Hu of China when he visited our country along with a much larger Chinese delegation.  And in thinking about that meeting, it is evident of why this place, William & Mary, is so incredible and so special.  Because when President Hu and other Chinese leaders come to America, they don’t come here to ask us advice about our government agencies or bureaucracies or administrative offices, they ask about America. 

They ask about how we’ve done it.  About where we’re headed.  About what’s the next wave coming out of the laboratories of learning of institutions like this one.  Where are the entrepreneurs of America headed?  They want to know how we do it.  How do we innovate?  How do we lead the way we do?  The Chinese, like so many others, are filled with admiration for the ingenuity and private industry of our country.   What is our secret?  You can see that question on their face.  How is it Google, Apple, Facebook all of them emerging from America?  We truly do invent things that change the world.

Part of the answer can be found right here at the College of William and Mary, the country’s most renowned institute of higher learning.  Founded alongside this country and our pioneering spirit.  Committed to the ideas of everlasting liberty and learning. 

We alumni of William & Mary are proud of our history, which is so closely related to the history of America.  As was said earlier, George Washington studied here.  Our most celebrated alum, Thomas Jefferson.  But we have a long line of others.  As is evident in the awards today, President Monroe, President Tyler, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.  And of note this week in particular, the guy from the city of Pittsburg that we are all counting on to win on behalf of William & Mary, the Super bowl on Sunday, the Steelers' Head Coach Mike Tomlin ’95.

As students and faculty members of this university, you live and learn at the heart of the American experiment.  Our Commonwealth, this region, is a place where our founding principles of liberty, democracy and limited government were cultivated. 

But it’s also a place where the ideas of freedom and democracy in America were wedded to education.  Our founders understood, as did the Crown at that time, that a successful democracy was just as much about education as it is about elections. 

As we witness movements around the globe contemplating sudden shifts to representative government, the leaders in those lands would do well to heed America’s lessons.  And as we in America face some very challenging foreign policy decisions, surrounding the current upheaval in the Middle East, we must also remember that our nation, in order for it to remain strong, we must remember these founding principles and we must remember how they have impacted who we are and what it is that sets us apart in America.

Part of what sets us apart, is who we are as a people.  It is the spirit of entrepreneurialism of our people that has produced the world’s freest and most prosperous nation.

Recently, I received a note from an MBA student who happens to be schooling in California, but he had been working in England for a few years.  In the note it was clear that this student was amazed at how different entrepreneurs are regarded in Europe.  The friends he made said they couldn’t even imagine an entrepreneurial hotbed like Silicon Valley existing in Europe.

And he wrote, “Starting a business, even if you fail in the process, is a badge of honor in the U.S.  But in Europe, entrepreneurship seems to be frowned upon, and consequently, the best and brightest are afraid to take a risk.  They don’t think any big products or businesses will come from the U.K. in the next 50 years.”

Strange because America is built on a culture of opportunity, responsibility and earned success.  In America, it’s never been about where you come from.  It’s about where you’re going.  Yet today the unbounded opportunity that has come to define our country is at risk.

When I meet people throughout the state and the country, people who are making decisions whether or not to invest, to expand or to start a business, they are actually questioning whether taking the risk is worth it anymore in America. 

Runaway debt, growth-stifling government regulations, and an anti-competitive tax structure have resulted in a Washington knows best mentality.  This has contributed to an economic malaise and a lack of hope from the part of many. 

About a year ago I met a young entrepreneur who lived in the Richmond area.  She was 26.  She had started a web design company of her own and had been in business a few years.  She had six employees and was doing well.  Customers were calling and the product was innovative.  Boundless optimism.  But what happened was she, like all other families and businesses, were confronted with the near collapse of our financial market and almost the depression of our economy in the fall of 2008. 

Her customers stopped calling.  The orders no longer came in and it became very hard to keep the lights on, much less pay the bills to get through the end of the month.  And she came to me because she was frustrated with her banks.  Her banks wouldn’t extend credit that they normally would, even though she never missed a payment. 

But what struck her as most offensive, was some of the rhetoric coming out of Washington indicating that the only way out of this economic malaise our country was experiencing was to raise taxes.  And specifically she said she was offended by the notion that those people who had been successful and were in the upper brackets were going to be taxed, where as others wouldn’t. 

And she came to me, and she said look, I’m not one of those people in those higher brackets.  So, whether or not those brackets and those rates are raised, it doesn’t affect me now.  But I can tell you I want to be a person in those brackets.  So why is it that I hear politicians that want to take away that incentive, that want to take away what I’m doing to create value, what I’m doing to provide a career for the six people that I employ.  Don’t do that, she said.  Don’t make it harder for me to innovate and be that entrepreneur I dreamed of being.   Don’t make it hard on me Washington.  Make sure that you act and do something before it’s too late. 

That was her message to me.  To me, that was a warning sign that we did have to act because if we lose the next generation of entrepreneurs and their hunger to innovate, we lose the future for the students at William & Mary and other institutions of learning around the country.   It’s that simple.

And that’s why all of us, of any political or philosophical persuasion, must work together and do everything in our power to help these students ensure a brighter future.

Now looking back on the elections, most say that last November was a repudiation of policies in place that perhaps were taking us in the wrong direction.  I know that most would agree there was a statement made by voters that they were unhappy with their current economic situation. 

But in looking at the possibilities, the election has provided us with a golden opportunity to refocus our country on bottom-line results.  On making sure that we do continue to lead in this country.

So I stand before you with a tremendous privilege of representing the 7th District of Virginia and also serving as the new Majority Leader in the U.S. House.  And it is my intention to live up to the commitment that I made to the people who elected me.  To work to change the culture in Washington to refocus America on her success.  And thereby we will be abide by certain principles:

One, the American people deserve a government that spends the people’s money just as they would spend their own.  That’s why when we took office we said we’re not exempt and we’ll cut our own budgets.  That’s why in a very meaningful, but some would say symbolic gesture, we banned an ocean of earmarks, ending a practice of withholding billions of dollars in pork-barrel favors that sometimes were used to buy, if you will,  members votes on larger, more wasteful spending bills. 

Secondly, that the people of America deserve a government that practices accountability and responsibility in everything it does.  That’s why it’s high time for use to say that nothing is sacrosanct.  Every program that has started and grown at the federal levels should be on the examining table.  If the mission is not valid, the program should end.  If the implementation of the mission doesn’t match, we ought to change it or cut it out.  It’s that simple. 

All new programs that will be started from here on out over the next two years will also have in them a sunset provision, demanding this sense of accountability. Bottom line, it’s time for us at the federal level to insist on a government that thinks and plans for the next generation, not just about the next election.

Over the next few years, our parties have got to be one, making sure we work to reduce unemployment and get people back to work. And two, to make sure we have focus and increase the competitiveness of U.S. businesses. And thirdly, we must create an environment that fosters long-term economic growth. To do this, we’ve announced a plan that is simple, but if I may say, bold: cut and grow.

We’re going to work to cut spending and cut job-destroying regulations so that we can grow the private sector and jobs in this economy. We said to the President, we want to work with him, starting now to reduce spending levels. We cannot wait. The urgency is upon us. We must work together to solve the fiscal crisis facing this country.

And we will work with the Administration and this President in aiming to save the entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, that provide such an essential safety net to so many. These programs will be saved for those nearing retirement or current retirees. We must act though to prevent these programs from going bankrupt for future generations by beginning the discussion in earnest of how to reform the way the programs operate for those 54 and younger.

No doubt, that would provide the sense of confidence to the people looking at the federal government, and its government, to see whether we’re going to be part of a fiscally sustainable operation.

We’ve also got to take a look at the regulatory front. For too long now, it has been Washington knows best. No party has a monopoly on that. We’ve got to bear down and look at the regulations that are impeding job growth, that are stopping the flourishing of entrepreneurs in America. We’re going to work hard to establish a new system of regulations that does not impede private-sector investment in job growth.

If we want this year’s graduates of William & Mary to find jobs, and to start their own businesses here in America, we have to start the race at trying to attract investment capital again in this country. And we will do so by aiming to reform our tax system, by aiming to reform a system of litigation so that everyone’s got a fair shot and entrepreneurs will reawaken in this country.

If we are successful, if we are all committed to working together, I have no doubt that Americans will continue will to do what we’ve always done best, and that is to innovate, compete, and lead the world.

Now you can only imagine back in the early days of the colonies, when the individuals who were hard at work here with the Virginia Company, someday soon to be the Commonwealth of Virginia, that those individuals never thought anyone would remember their name. But perhaps they felt people would remember what they did.

Similarly today, fifty years from now most of us in this room, Americans won’t remember our names. But if we do our work, most will remember that this year, 2011, was either the year that the American dream made a comeback, or the year when this country began a long fade into history.

The question for all of us as we reflect on the founding of this institution, and the fight that it made along the way to be what it is today: Are we up to a similar task? Are we up to doing everything we can to win this fight?

Thank you all very much, and thank you for the honor.