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POLITICS

GOP Young Guns Take to Town Hall

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A view of the Facebook homepage.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders of the new-look Congress took to the new-look Facebook on Monday in a live Town Hall webcast. While neither group is particularly popular right now (Gallup currently has 82 percent of Americans disapproving of the way Congress does its job, and last week’s Facebook redesign sent the Twittersphere into a tizzy of criticism) the event was relatively light fare, with lawmakers praising the significance of social media and sticking to their platitudes about the importance of cutting the government down to size.

The self-dubbed “Young Guns”—a term that might make some sense in Congress, but seems almost laughable coming from Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., where even the founder is only 27—House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., spent just under an hour answering questions from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, members of the crowd, and participants online.  

 

The root of the current debate in Washington, Cantor said, is about “where to best allocate capital”—to the government in Washington or to “entrepreneurs and innovators” like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The question was, of course, rhetorical.

McCarthy concurred, saying that the best way to spend American dollars is on the promotion of small businesses like Facebook and Apple were when they started: companies essentially being built in garages or on home computers. The focus, he said, should be on “what’s made America great: entrepreneurship and innovation.”

But the Facebook lovefest didn’t end there. All three Young Guns (not to be confused with the cast of the 1988 Emilio Estevez movie of the same name) cited Facebook as being crucial to their communication with their constituents. Ryan even pandered to the crowd saying that Facebook and other “inferior” social media websites have made him optimistic about creating real change in Washington. Incidentally, Ryan is the only one of the three members who manages to come across as young. He even wears an iPod when he walks around the Capitol, but whether that is a product of being young or wanting to avoid reporters is another question.

 

After answering a series of lighting-fast questions where we learned, among other things, that Ryan prefers Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre, that McCarthy prefers crunchy peanut butter to creamy, and that Cantor likes dark chocolate over milk (OK, fine, we also learned that Cantor would choose to cut taxes before spending and that Ryan chooses entitlement reform over tax reform), the lawmakers spoke on the importance of working together to recapture the spirit of American exceptionalism.

“No one can climb a mountain alone,” said McCarthy. “Every major challenge we have faced, we have done it together.… The Transcontinental Railroad was built during the Civil War.”

But it’s become clear that “working together” has not been a strong suit for Congress’s Young Guns. This is partially because they came to Congress with a mission.

During the past election, Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan used the Young Guns label—which comes from a book by the same name—to help recruit and fundraise for a certain breed of Republican candidate.

 

The goal was not just to win back the House for the GOP; it was to usher in a freshman class entirely different from recent history. This class was to have one major purpose: cut spending. As Cantor put it just weeks before Election Day: "The Republican Party lost its way. We blew it on spending; we didn't conduct ourselves according to the expectations that people had."

The Young Guns was an effort to harness the tea party momentum, and bring a bunch of deficit-cutting hawks into Washington who lived and died by Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes, and for whom government spending was the enemy.  Anyone who watched the debt-ceiling negotiations take place in July has seen the Young Guns’ influence at work. No wonder House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who struggled to wrangle freshman votes then, and struggles again now with legislation to fund the government, was not present at the Facebook event.

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