I was not in the room for Marco Rubio's address at the Reagan Library last night, but having read the text, I came away with a different reaction than T.A. Frank, who wrote a dispatch for us. Tom came away impressed with rhetoric like this:
There were moments when he dared to offer a gram of risky honesty and an ounce of real ideas.
On the honesty part, for example, he admitted, obliquely, that George W. Bush had raided the nation’s piggy bank and subsequently beaten the piggy to death. “I know that it's popular in my party to blame the president, the current president," Rubio said. "But the truth is that the only thing this president has done is accelerate policies that were already in place, and were doomed to fail."
This strikes me as a fairly common Republican trope from the last two years. The party has decided that Bush failed because he was far too moderate, and the solution is to embrace far more conservative policies. Republicans often present this critique as a kind of "bipartisan" confession, and reporters often take it in that spirit. The clever thing about it is that conservative die-hards interpret it as a statement of ideological purity -- i.e., in roughly the reverse of the spirit in which it is taken by the liberal media. If you had a left-wing Democrat confessing that, truth be told, both parties have failed to smash the bourgeoise, I don't think it would be understood as a refreshing new bipartisan tone.
Tom interprets Rubio's call to "make changes" to Social Security as a call for greater taxation. I really don't think that's what Rubio meant.
I also feel that Tom, whose work I generally admire a great deal, skipped over some of the fairly extreme rhetoric from Rubio's address. For instance, there's Rubio's suggestion that the whole thrust of federal policy over the last century is totally wrong. Then you have his quasi-religious paean to the perfection of capitalism, including bizarre statements like this:
To do that, we must begin by embracing certain principles that are absolutely true. Number one: the free enterprise system does not create poverty. 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 the free enterprise system.
That's just crazy wrong. Of course the free enterprise system leaves people behind. Not everybody can succeed in the free enterprise system. The normal scope of debate concerns whether and how to assist those left behind by capitalism, not whether such a phenomenon exists.