Eric Cantor was to give this speech the other day at Wharton. Depending upon your viewpoint, either Cantor "wimped out" and decided against giving his speech - or decided that an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that was going to protest his speech would be both too threatening and too disruptive for the evening to work. So - Cantor did indeed fail to deliver.
Frankly, irrespective of your political views, I do think that is a shame. It's one of the best speechs that I have read in a long time. See if you don't think so, too.
My grandmother and her family fled religious persecution to come here at the turn of the last century. Like so many of her generation in Eastern Europe, my grandmother faced a future where no matter how hard she worked, no matter how much she studied or learned, no matter how smart she was, there were limits. Just because of who she was, who her parents were, and where she was born, there was only so far she could go, only so much she could do.
But our country isn’t like that. America offered opportunity. My grandmother eventually made her home in a working class section of my hometown of Richmond. As you can imagine, in the early 20th century, the South wasn’t often the most accepting place for a young Jewish woman. Widowed by age 30, she raised my father and uncle in a tight apartment above a tiny grocery store that she and my grandfather had opened. She worked day and night and sacrificed tremendously to secure a better future for her sons. And sure enough, this young woman – who had the courage to journey to a distant land with hope as her only possession – lifted herself into the ranks of the middle class. Through hard work, her faith and thrift, she was even able to send her two sons to college. All she wanted was a chance – a fair shot at making a better life for her two sons. And if she were still alive today, I know she would be blown away to know that her grandson is not only a Member of the U.S. Congress, but now the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.
We need to be sure that the opportunity my grandmother realized is here for all of us in deciding as a country who we’re going to be. It really is about that fair shot – no matter who you are or where you’re from, all of us should have access to the opportunity to earn your own success. The basis upon which America was founded and the basis upon which America thrives is providing people with the equality of opportunity – not equality of outcome.
There is a ladder of success in America. However, it is a ladder built not by Washington, but by hard work, responsibility and the initiative of the people of our country.
My grandmother worked her fingers to the bone so that her sons could have a better life than she did. Her sons – my dad – didn’t disappoint her. He respected her sacrifices to send him to college. He took that opportunity and started his own business in real estate with little more than the drive to succeed. Emulating my grandmother’s work ethic, he was able to provide a quality life for my mother, brothers, and me. Why? For the very same reasons that inspired my grandmother. He wanted a better life for all of us.
It is this foundation — hard work, faith, family, and opportunity — that provides each of us with the prospects of unlimited potential in America. Each generation is able to get a little further ahead, climbing up the ladder of success in our society. How quickly you move up – or sometimes down – should be completely up to you.
We know that we all don’t begin life’s race from the same starting point. I was fortunate enough to be born into a stable family that provided me with the tools that I needed to get ahead. Not everyone is so lucky. Some are born into extremely difficult situations, facing severe obstacles. The fact is many in America are coping with broken families, dealing with hunger and homelessness, confronted daily by violent crime, or burdened by rampant drug use. Recently I was asked, “What does your party say to that 9-year-old, inner city kid scared to death, growing up in a life of poverty? What can you do for that little girl?”
Well, we know there are no easy answers. But I believe that child needs a hand up to help her climb the ladder of success in our country. She needs the advantages of a solid family around her and a community that encourages her to learn and work hard. She needs some semblance of stability. She also needs some guarantees. She needs to know that the rules are the same for everybody. That although she may have to work harder than many of us, she needs to know that she has a fair shot at making it in this country.