Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, delivered his party’s response to President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address of his second term—and it was awful.
The senator started his speech with the story of his parents, who came to America from an oppressive Cuba in the 1950s. It was trite. Rubio started off his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this way, as he did in his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
His story is a wonderful narrative, but he should know it doesn’t have to be a mainstay of every speech he delivers.
For a man who seems to know the importance of a powerful personal story, he failed to use his own trouble with student loan debt to connect to voters of the Millennial generation (born after 1981). He talked about it briefly, but not to the extent he should have.
A recent article by The New York Times discussed how Millennial voters have become more comfortable with the kind of activist central government Obama embraces, an anathema to conservatives like Rubio.
The development is also what makes conservative attempts to replay former President Ronald Reagan’s famous line, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem,” monotonous and without much effect.
One point made by Rubio about federal corporate taxes could have been more salient.
“Because more government raises taxes on employers who then pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs,” Rubio said.
His statement is in fact supported by research from the Tax Policy Center, which said “20 percent of the corporate income tax is borne by labor and 80 percent by capital.” Though Rubio made a valid point, without any numbers or other data, he sounded like any other Republican who wants to cut taxes for rich corporate executives.
Throughout most of the speech Rubio discussed values rather than policy, and when he did discuss policy, he missed opportunities to broaden his appeal to voters who typically do not follow the Republican Party.
For example, when he said Republicans agreed “with the president that we should lower our corporate tax rate, which is one of the highest in the world,” he should have followed with an unconventional appeal to enact a nationwide cap-and-trade scheme in return for much lower federal corporate taxes.
That option was studied by the Tax Policy Center in a recent report and deemed feasible. Rubio wasted an opportunity to appeal to environmentalists in the same way former Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater was able to in his career.
Later in the speech, any chance of an alliance with environmentally-friendly voters was eliminated after Rubio basically endorsed his party’s “drill baby, drill” policy on energy development.
“Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called ‘clean energy’ companies like Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration,” Rubio said.
In totality Rubio reduced economic theorems from works like “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman or F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” to their lowest interpretations: Government bad, taxes bad.
Rubio proved himself to be little more than a culmination of the GOP’s attempts to “out-Latino” the Democratic Party. Aesthetically, in the lowest form of retail politics —Rubio has appeal, but as the future of his party he promises little in the way of ideas.
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