To no one's real surprise, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced today that because his years representing Virginia's 7th district in Congress had so infused him with the desire to serve others, he'll be spending his post-congressional career passing out blankets for Doctors Without Borders in disaster zones all over the...no, I'm kidding. He'll be joining a boutique investment bank, opening a Washington office from which he'll offer strategic advice to well-heeled clients. Good work, if you can get it. Which you can't, but Eric Cantor can.
This makes him a bit different than most people in his position, since they tend to become lobbyists upon leaving Congress, whereas it sounds like Cantor won't have to suffer the indignity of asking his former colleagues for favors. And you can't blame him, since this is a horrible time to be a lobbyist, what with Congress not passing any laws. But Cantor's new gig highlights something I talked about in my column earlier today, about how we expect our representatives to talk and act like the district or state they hail from is the finest place in all the land, and you'd have to be crazy to live anywhere else. Yet when their days of pressing voters' flesh are done, most of them choose not to return to the supposed paradise that nurtured them.
The simple reason is that if you spent a decade or two mastering the ways of Congress, when it comes time to cash in on your knowledge and experience, you can't do it from Dubuque or Kalamazoo. But there's something else, too: maybe they just like it better in Washington. If you're not ready to retire back to the farmhouse your grandpappy built (Cantor is only 51, so he has plenty of productive years ahead of him), why not stay in the big city, where not only can you make bank (from a bank!), but you can also live an active life partaking of all the city has to offer? Cantor is from Richmond, which is hardly a little podunk town, but being a big shot there still isn't quite the same as being a big shot in the nation's capital.
Which brings me to a speculation for which I have no direct evidence. I'll bet that if you looked at what everyone who leaves Congress does, the ones who still have working years ahead of them are far more likely to return home if home is a big city. Just like regular people, former members of Congress are going to find a lot more opportunity in New York or Los Angeles or Houston or Chicago —or, especially, Washington—than they will in the charming, sleepy little burg they spent their career holding up as the beating heart of "real" America.
So people shouldn't feel betrayed when their former representative decides not to return home. If it's a small town, he wasn't the first or the last to move out once his sights got set higher.