The next debate among GOP White House hopefuls will be next month at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. But they will be hard-pressed to match the words spoken there this past week by one of those non-candidates conservatives find so intriguing.
Marco Rubio rode into the U.S. Senate last year on the tea-party wave. The son of Cuban immigrants and former speaker of the House in Florida gained national notoriety by running then-Gov. Charlie Crist out of the primary and then beating him soundly in the general election (when Crist ran as an independent).
On Tuesday in California, he gave a speech worthy, in substance and style, of the man for whom his venue was named.
Rubio’s subject was defining the proper role of government. Reagan, he said, did this “better than any American has done ever before.” And this question, he added, is today “as important as it has ever been.”
He began his own answer with an observation that “the vast majority of Americans share a common vision for what they want our nation to be”:
First, “free and prosperous, a place where your economic hopes and dreams can be accomplished and brought up to fruition.” Second, “compassionate…a place where people are not left behind.”
And he explained why this vision is unfulfilled, and the question about government’s proper role unresolved.
“Both Republicans and Democrats established a role for government in America that said, yes, we’ll have a free economy, but we will also have a strong government, who through regulations and taxes will control the free economy and, through a series of government programs, will take care of those in our society who are falling behind.”
This 20th-century vision, he said, was “doomed to fail from the start” because “it forgot that the strength of our nation begins with its people and…these programs actually weakened us as a people.”
Instead of saving for our own security or acting on our own to help those in need, he said, “government crowded out the institutions in our society that did these things traditionally [and] weakened our people in a way that undermined our ability to maintain our prosperity.”
On top of it all, we made these changes without regard to cost — building “a government that not even the richest and most prosperous nation in the face of the Earth can fund or afford to pay for.”
If we are to answer the question of government’s role ourselves, and not let our creditors do so for us, Rubio said we must recognize this truism:
“The free enterprise system does not leave people behind. People are poor and people are left behind because they do not have access to the free enterprise system because something in their lives or in their community has denied them access” to it. It is a system that pulls “millions of…people out of poverty,” one which “creates prosperity, not denies it.”
Public policy should promote free-enterprise growth: “in our economy, the creation of jobs, and of opportunity, of equality of opportunity.”
Finally, the 40-year-old made a stirring call to his own generation — “those of us raised in Ronald Reagan’s America” — to bear the burden of fulfilling the promises of Social Security and Medicare for our elders and changing it for our children, even if it is “a system that we will never fully access.”
Clarity, sobriety, unity, optimism and responsibility — it was all in there.
The Gipper would have been proud. Presidential candidates of the future should be scared.
– By Kyle Wingfield