Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s latest book, American Dreams is a curious work. What do you do with a “big ideas” launch for a campaign that is already doomed?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Rubio. Handsome, young, ethnic and severely conservative in a swing state, he could have done nothing and always had an important role as a party leader, if for nothing more than all those moments when they needed a face and name that said No, we’re not racist. But then he bungled it all by writing a sincere immigration reform bill. Worse, he combined a goofy water bottle moment with a State of the Union response speech of tireless weepy vacuity that exposed his lightweight status. Now “I’m Not A Real Jeb” Bush has begun using Rubio’s 2016 campaign talking points, eating into whatever perceived centrism Rubio had and stealing his Florida fundraising base. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has devoured both Rubio’s Tea Party credentials and Hispanic GOP uniqueness.
What’s left is American Dreams. It’s tempting to call Rubio’s book a stillbirth of the American regeneration, since it seems unlikely that it will ultimately be put to any campaign use. But this is something else – an unfocused creation of conservative leftovers, an accident of thoughts that have aged over decades into afterthoughts. Like Paul Ryan’s book , it is liberally seasoned with right-wing buzzwords: liberty, freedom, jobs, competition, values. “Innovate” is used so many times that one wonders why such an educated thinkfluencer couldn’t brainstorm any alternatives.
Rubio, to his credit, resists the temptation to immediately create mental applause lines by fatuously misrepresenting all of liberalism with the decontextualized Obama quote, “ If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that : it first appears on page two, not one. In the next line, he admits, “Government can play a role in our success, of course. The rule of law, infrastructure, access to quality education...” – all factors cited in the full Obama quote . Okay. Sure, man. Whatever.There’s no point worrying about this sad spark when paragraphs later he’s burning straw man after straw man about liberals’ belief that the government safety net is a “permanent way of life.”
American Dreams’ “big ideas” chapters hardly fare better. Rubio titles Chapter Two “MAKING AMERICA SAFE FOR UBER”, even though the company appears for the first two pages of the chapter and then essentially disappears; its only value seems to come from being something young people, like the students in his class, have heard of. He dedicates much of the remainder of the chapter to a moderately incoherent mess of other, unrelated things: “The Tankchair”; the Affordable Care Act; corporate tax rates; the Keystone pipeline ; deregulating the broadband spectrum; Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine; and his proposal for a “National Regulatory Budget” that would place “an absolute dollar limit on what federal regulations could cost the economy in any given year”. The latter is an intriguing vision , a trojan horse of massive deregulation of some of everything – a clown balloon horse, with rainbow polka dots and a jackass smile. Rubio might as well submit a law saying that government regulation can “do 100 things next year. And no stuff.”
And it’s all a little weird, considering chapter two is nominally about Uber. They don’t even operate in the Ukraine.
Rubio will likely be hammered for the immigration section, mostly for its existence. He calls for securing the border for “humanitarian” and “national security” reasons, while tracking visa overstays and mandating that employers use E-Verify. For the 12m immigrants already in this country, he proposes a three-step plan: come forward to register and possibly be deported; those who aren’t deported will get to pay fines and application fees; and, if those that aren’t deported and are registered don’t commit a crime, they can apply for permanent residency in 10 years.
But Rubio doesn’t want to end his immigration reform plan by just fixing the problem of undocumented immigrants; he wants to eliminate the current legal immigration lottery system and “[make] our legal immigration system a merit-based system that encourages innovators.” That is the sort of classist approach that should play well to Republican moderates looking for a system with a strong whiff of fairness masking the “I’m not a science” of social darwinism. Neither of Rubio’s own parents – “ a bartender in hotels and... a maid, cashier and retail clerk ” – would have qualified under his proposed standards, but apparently times have changed, and the economy is different. So there you go.
Rubio’s answer to the War on Poverty is no more thoughtful: he proposes creating a “Flex Fund” to “[distribute] a lump sum payment to the states to use to support or create innovative and multifaceted state and local antipoverty programs.” Oh, innovativeprograms! That’ll fix everything, flexibly.
The new, innovative nature of the Flex Fund is that states must spend the money on antipoverty programs “consistent with the purposes of the federal programs they are replacing,” but “if poverty goes down, the state would be allowed to keep the extra money, no strings attached.” This will work, because state governments have always possessed the magical Tablet of Antipoverty, on which the Secrets of Entrepreneurship were written in ancient runes by Jesus and Adam Smith – only the federal government wouldn’t let them use it.
Rubio’s not done innovating. Instead of taxing an investor class to create subsidized college education for all, Rubio wants to combat rising college costs by allowing teenagers to “apply for a ‘Student Investment Plan’ from a private investment group. These investment groups would pay your $10,000 tuition in return for a predetermined percentage of your income for a set period of time after graduation – maybe 4 percent of your income a year for ten years.”
Rubio stops here, but why should he? Why not slice the risk – your education and financial future – into tranches and give them grades? A really good risk could be graded “AAA,” and then it could be traded on the bond market! Maybe you could even bundle your own MBA debt atop a pile of crap, sell it to a school pension fund and then bankrupt dozens of retired art teachers.
Rubio eventually works his way around to truly presidential-level hedging on same sex marriage not seen since the hoary days of 2008. After celebrating that marriage isbased on “thousands of years of human history”, he punts the whole issue to the states, allowing only that “I continue to believe marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. It is neither my place nor my intention to dictate to anyone who they are allowed to love or live with.” Good news, same sex couples: adopting is out, but cohabitation is in.
Still, other families are important to Rubio, who cites a “landmark study” that found that, “More than racial segregation, more than education, more than inequality, the number of single parents in a community is most determinative of upward mobility.” He contrasts the single-parent homes and economic mobility in those two otherwise sister cities Atlanta (bad!) and Salt Lake City (good!).Rubio performs some real mental contortions to determine that single parenthood above all hinders economic success, instead of the multiple cultural and economic factors that might instead contribute to single parenthood and a host of other conditions – and that Obama is personally to blame for liberalism’s failures to address the single-parent household issue. Rubio writers, “This is a man – himself the child of a single mother – with a unique ability to reach the poor and minority communities most affected by the breakdown of the family. That he has chosen not to address this crisis is a tragically wasted opportunity.”
Now, never mind that one of Obama’s jobs since running for office has been Black Community Scold -in- Chief ; one of the things the president also did was lament the absence of his father in his life and express his urge to “break the cycle where a father is not at home” – at the historically black Morehouse College. In Atlanta .
Still, you have to give Rubio style points; he closes the chapter and the book by utterly annihilating the idea that there is a Republican “war on women” because Republicans are the only ones trying to help single mothers not be single – not through Sean Hannity’s dating service , but through being “eager to reform our poverty programs, our tax code and our moral sensibility to support work and family”. Of course, a really good way to prevent a supposedly tragic outbreak of single mothers might be to allow women the right to choose not to be mothers, rather than reforming the tax code, and the Republican enthusiasm to strip women of those choices might just be what liberals are talking about when they talk about the “war on women”, but nah, it’s probably the tax code.
Only, Christ: there’s an entire 16-page afterword that might as well be titled, “Foreign Policy Things That Happened While My Staff Was Writing This” that includes Hamas, China continuing “its provocations in the South China Sea,” Venezuela, “a corrupt United Nations”, a shout-out to Ronald Reagan and George Washington (America’s first Ronald Reagan) and the Barbary pirates, something about Ebola and, you guessed it, Benghazi. It’s like a game ofFox News Foreign Policy Bingo.
Marco Rubio’s book is a work of surpassing laziness, possessed of the aimless, discursive prose of someone remembering what his original point was after concluding a digression he suddenly remembered he wanted to make. Its appeals and concessions to fact and its airy handwaving rationalizations of them read like the weightless ad-libs of someone reaching for anything to win an argument on a subject about which he studied little. It is the equivalent of someone taking his seminar class improvisations from all those mornings when professors called on him after he didn’t do the reading, then converting them to one massive, incoherent year-end term paper for all his classes. Rubio will pass, just so his professors can be rid of him. But he will not be class president.
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