In the reax below, I have to say I think Conor has it right. The question I have to ask is a simple one: could this speech have been given thirty years ago? Of course it could have. It was not a political speech; it was a recitation of doctrine, dedicated to Saint Ronald, guardian saint of airports. Here is an article of faith which is now so banal it does indeed sound, as Conor notes, like a song whose lyrics have become meaningless by repetition:
More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back. More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them. And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty.
Then this truism from the 1980s:
In order to balance our budget, the choice doesn’t have to be either higher taxes or dramatic benefit cuts for those in need. Instead we should grow our economy so that we create new taxpayers, not new taxes, and so our government can afford to help those who truly cannot help themselves.
Wow. Never heard that before. And this utopian, Randian future:
If we can get the economy to grow at just 4 percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion dollars over the next decade. Tax increases can’t do this. Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs.
They did in the 1990s. And cutting taxes irresponsibly in the 2000s reduced the rate of job growth. Nonetheless the dogma is in place, like some Animal Farm slogan: “Big government” is bad. “Small business” is good. And yet, Rubio, in the few instances when he mentioned specifics that might tackle actual problems, was in favor government action:
Helping the middle class grow will also require an education system that gives people the skills today’s jobs entail and the knowledge that tomorrow’s world will require. We need to incentivize local school districts to offer more advanced placement courses and more vocational and career training. We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice. And because tuition costs have grown so fast, we need to change the way we pay for higher education. I believe in federal financial aid.
Is that not government? Yes, there were things that were dead-on and I’d prefer them to what Obama is offering. A simplified tax system? There are few indications Obama is interested. This I profoundly believe:
The truth is every problem can’t be solved by government. Many are caused by the moral breakdown in our society. And the answers to those challenges lie primarily in our families and our faiths, not our politicians.
But sadly, the speech was also full of lies, avoidance and misdirection. This one really pissed me off:
The President loves to blame the debt on President Bush. But President Obama created more debt in four years than his predecessor did in eight. The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment.
Seriously? A president who gave us two unfunded wars, massive tax cuts, and unfunded new entitlement in our biggest spending program, Medicare, in a period of growth was more fiscally prudent than a president who inherited a collapse in revenues to 60 year-lows because of the worst recession since the 1930s? And a balanced budget amendment, which in general I favor, would have been catastrophic in the last four years as demand was wiped out of the economy. For these statements to be true, you have to live in a sealed ideological universe that hasn’t changed since 1979.
On policies? No compromise on gun control. Immigration? Secure borders first. Growth? Drill, baby, drill – as if we haven’t. Climate change? “No matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather.” Please. Gay equality? Not a word. Foreign policy? Nothing on Afghanistan; nothing on what the last decade has taught us; nothing on drone warfare; nothing. No wonder the GOP has the lost its historical advantage on this topic.
Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.
But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.
This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.
This is unhinged. Obama has never said this, never given any indication that he believes this and has repeatedly said that the private sector is the engine of growth. And the recession was caused by government support for mortgages for low-income home-owners? Wall Street was a by-stander? This is a talk-radio talking point, not an analysis. And the sequester is now apparently an Obama policy, not just a short-term attempt to keep the government from a self-imposed credit crisis caused by nutball Republicans in 2011 that Obama wants to avoid.
We don’t have to raise taxes to avoid the President’s devastating cuts to our military.
Then there is this simple and obvious contradiction:
More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back. More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.
Only minutes later, he said this:
I believe in federal financial aid. I couldn’t have gone to college without it.
So does government help people get ahead? Or does it hold them back? Which one is it, Senator?
This was an intellectually exhausted speech that represents the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary Republicanism. It was a series of Reaganite truisms that had a role to play in reinvigorating America after liberal over-reach in the 1960s and 1970s. It had precious little new in it. If reciting these platitudes in Spanish is what the GOP thinks will bring it back to anything faintly resembling political or intellectual relevance, they are more deluded than even I imagined.
(Photo: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)