JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 24, 2011
Marco Rubio, the near-certain Republican vice-presidential nominee, delivered a speech that is yet another signpost in his party's rightward lurch. During the 1980s and 1990s, the thrust of mainstream conservatism held that American government started veering off course in the 1960s with welfare and the counterculture. Rubio expounds a far more radical critique, repudiating essentially the entire last century:
Except for the Reagan Administration, to be quite frank, both Republicans and Democrats established a role for government in America that said yes we will have a free economy, but we will also have a strong government, which 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. That was the vision crafted in the 20th Century by our leaders..
That sounds like the part in the speech where the Republican says he wants to stay in the tradition but trim the excesses of government, right? but no -- Rubio proceeds to assert that this entire 20th century edifice was a failure:
These programs weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government's job.
The notion that sick people always or even usually received care and poor people always or even usually received help before the emergence of the modern state is wildly at odds with historical reality, which of course explains why Americans created those state functions in the first place. What's more, the dramatic transformation of American medicine makes it no longer practical for relatives or charity to provide medical treatment to an uninsured person.
Rubio hilariously excludes Reagan from the pattern of presidents who accepted a government role in the economy. Conservative mythology insists that Reagan must always be correct, so Rubio lauds him for rejecting the twentieth century model of government, even though Reagan very much accepted the broad contours of the post New Deal state. Indeed, Reagan liked to boast that he voted for Franklin Roosevelt, and that the Democratic Party only went wrong sometime after FDR passed from the scene. Reagan trimmed government but he never even attempted to fundamentally challenge the basic role of government in regulating market failure or providing medical care to the poor and elderly:
The GOP has been moving right for thirty years, but since then it has lurched rapidly and dramatically, toward a 19th century vision of the state. This new position can be seen in the arguments on figures like Clarence Thomas, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan. Rubio is placing himself within the new party consensus.