Far from a cool drink of water (ok I couldn’t resist), Marco Rubio’s State of the Union response was a failure in that it continued to rest the entire weight of the Republican Party squarely on its Achilles heel.
In 2012 the GOP was doomed to defeat because they could not bear to listen to facts that were not from their own limited echo chamber. And Tuesday night Marco Rubio, who has been elevated as a conservative savior by the same elements of the movement who directed the Romney campaign off a cliff, showed he was pretty comfortable in the confines of Fox News’ messaging womb.
Instead of a launching pad for a new conservative movement, his speech was constructed around seven straw men, many of which were directly contradicted in the Presidents own remarks:
1. "Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough."
2. "This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies."
3. "When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."
4. "And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts – cuts that were his idea in the first place."
5. "Hard-working middle class Americans who don’t need us to come up with a plan to grow the government. They want a plan to grow the middle class. Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class. Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012."
6. "In the short time I’ve been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight. The choice isn’t just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs."
7. "And the truth is every problem can’t be solved by government. Many are caused by the moral breakdown in our society. And the answers to those challenges lie primarily in our families and our faiths, not our politicians."
The idea that Barack Obama hates capitalism might be chum for Fox News’ audience, but it doesn’t speak to the rest of America who sees the stock market hovering above 14,000 for the first time since 2007. It also doesn’t jive with a State of the Union where the President called for government that “encourages free enterprise” and “rewards individual initiative.”
Rubio then peddled the lie, repeated hundreds of times, that the housing crisis was caused by “reckless government policies” presumably the Community Reinvestment Act. However the Federal Reserve studied the issue and concluded there was “no connection between CRA and the subprime mortgage problems.” The other pillars of the right’s mythmaking about the financial crisis are just as shaky, but those stubborn facts haven’t penetrated Rubio’s information bubble.
Then Rubio, who just a few weeks ago claimed, “I’m not a scientist, man” proved it with his nod to climate denialists. The President never claims government can control the weather but our actions certainly do. Out of 13,950 scientific papers published from January 1991 through November 2012, just 24 “reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming.”
Rubio’s fourth straw man was just a lie. The President never specifically contrasted tax cuts vs. military spending. Here is what he did say:
"In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea."
"But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight."
Rubio’s fifth and sixth straw man make it clear this wasn’t a response to the President’s address so much as a resuscitation of 2012 talking points. No less than half a dozen times did the President talk about the middle class. Additionally, throughout the State of the Union he talked about helping small business through improved government efficiency – by simplifying the tax filing process, for example.
And no fair reading of this State of the Union or of the President’s policies suggests he believes government has all the answers as the arguments put forward last night suggest. No reading at all, in fact, since the President said “The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem” in the opening of his speech, and that “Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight” near the end.
Marco Rubio had a chance to lay out a case for conservative government. Instead he decided lying about the President was the best course of action. For all the pronouncements of Rubio as the next savior of the Republican Party, the GOP demonstrated their best efforts consist of Fox News talking points already warmed over by Mitt Romney.