Late yesterday in Miami, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made it official, launching his 2016 presidential campaign with a not-so-subtle message: he’s this cycle’s new, fresh face.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday,” Rubio said, referring to Clinton’s own campaign launch on Sunday. “Yesterday is over, and we are never going back. We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future.”
The speech, which much of the political press fawned over, emphasized certain words over and over again. “Yesterday” got five mentions, as did the word “new.” The senator used the word “future” five times, and he added seven references to “generation.”
There were a whopping 13 references to “century,” mostly in reference to “new century” and “21st century.”
I half expected to hear “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” over the loudspeakers, though the song tends to be associated with someone else.
At the surface, it’s not a bad pitch. But in Rubio’s case, there are more salient questions about the messenger than the message.
The Florida Republican, for example, expressed dismay that American leaders are “taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.” It was as foolish as it was wrong – in 1999, not only were tax rates higher than now, but the government wasn’t “borrowing” at all thanks to the federal surpluses that existed in the Clinton era.
At the time, the economic boom was reaching new heights, unemployment was reaching new lows, the nation was actually shrinking the national debt for the first time in generations. Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
But even putting aside glaring and unnecessary factual errors, the more thematic problem was Rubio denouncing those who are “busy looking backward,” while at the same time, pushing an agenda that would roll back the clock.
To be sure, there’s room in the GOP field for a forward-thinking Republican willing to break with old party orthodoxy. But simply saying you’re a forward-thinking Republican willing to break with old party orthodoxy is posturing, not leading.
“[W]hile our people and economy are pushing the boundaries of the 21st century,” the far-right senator said, “too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century.”
And to prove the point, Rubio wants to impose trickle-down economics on the country, while sticking to the Cuba embargo created more than a half-century ago. He denies climate science, just like the GOP of old. He opposes marriage equality, just like the GOP of old. He opposes reproductive rights and wants limits on contraception access, just like the GOP of old.
Even his campaign slogan – “a new American Century” – is a throwback to his party’s past.
Rubio’s media admirers swooned yesterday afternoon, impressed by his delivery and ability to speak with emotional resonance. But the problem is a familiar one: this is only impressive if we consciously dismiss substance as unimportant.
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