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Friday, April 27, 2012

Marco Rubio Speaks Up for the Establishment

By: Carl Wicklander

It would be difficult to pin down the most alarming, disconcerting, or hubristic statement in Marco Rubio's speech at the Brookings Institution but the following is a good contender: 

"I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business.  Every aspect of [our] lives is directly impacted by global events.  The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  Our cost of living, the safety of our food and the value of things we invent, make and sell are just a few examples of everyday aspects of our lives that are directly related to events abroad and make it impossible for us to focus only on issues here at home." 

Over at the Daily Caller, Jack Hunter trenchantly picked up from Michael Brendan Dougherty that "this is a prescription for endless war."  Rubio's statement indeed causes alarm for non-interventionists and realists alike.  But what the supposed Tea Party senator has done is essentially take the loose construction of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and applied it to foreign policy. 

Many conservatives are familiar with the infamous 1942 Supreme Court case Wickard v. Filburn where Ohio farmer Filburn raised wheat on his own farm for the purpose of feeding his chickens.  The Court, deciding in favor of the U.S. Agriculture Department, claimed that since the wheat could have affected interstate commerce, it was under the purview of regulation from Washington.  A contorted interpretation to be sure, but no more contorted than Rubio's contention that, in the words of the London Telegraph's Timothy Stanley, "if some goatherd in the mountains of Afghanistan loses one of his flock to a landmine, the consequences for Topeka, Kansas could be terrible." 

The speech is fueling speculation that the freshman senator is seeking to place himself as Mitt Romney's running mate.  Indeed he has been subject of such talk for months, including by this writer.  Although there are obvious flaws with a Rubio candidacy, in several ways Rubio is the perfect specimen of what the GOP wants in a VP.  And that is exactly what is wrong. 

Rubio himself has been a national figure longer than he's been a national officeholder.  In the fall of 2009, the infancy of his campaign, National Review placed him on its cover and Rubio was the keynote speaker at the 2010 CPAC.  For better or worse, NR is still the flagship of movement conservatism and CPAC is not some isolated gathering of a couple hundred conservative groupies.  One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist of the Alex Jones variety to see that Rubio, who had only been a state representative, was identified and propped up as a potential party leader. 

The trouble with Rubio is not that he is simply a hyperinterventionist.  It's better for non-interventionists and realists if Rubio's foreign policy is associated with the likes of Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, three senators no one would accuse of being right-wing fanatics.  The problem is that he entered the national political scene as a Tea Party candidate and for a movement that has largely avoided discussing foreign policy, Rubio's platform would make Tea Party foreign policy virtually indistinguishable from the foreign policy failures of the Bush administration that cost Republicans the White House and their congressional majorities. 

The 2012 presidential election has been marked primarily by the economy and jobs.  Although many of the early stages of the Republican primary featured tough talk on foreign policy, including Rick Santorum's repeated claim that the leadership of Iran is equivalent to al Qaeda, once voting began domestics took center stage. 

But the glaring omission of this process has been any mention of George W. Bush.  The last Republican president, elected twice and one whom might be expected to be held up with other Republican heroes, is persona non grata

That is, of course, until Rubio said in an interview just days before his big foreign policy address that not only did President Bush do a commendable job immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, which even critics concede, but that he did a "fantastic" job for his whole presidency. 

Since he left office most Republicans have been smart enough to avoid discussion of George W. Bush because his administration oversaw so many disasters:  Iraq, Katrina, deficits, corruption, and a crashing economy.  But the silence was only half of it.  There was no outright rejection of the Bush years - only the abiding suspicion that Republicans were embarrassed by the negative perception of Bush and not his agenda.  Rubio's praise for Bush and subsequent speech is telling. 

Lockstep conformism in foreign policy is likely to result once an old guard Republican, and therefore de facto leader of the party, like Romney reaches the White House.  But Rubio, who is young, energetic, and likely to remain a highly visible Republican even if he doesn't land the #2 spot, represents the status quo a new generation of Republicans can believe in. 

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
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