That expensive degree was the subject of many of Rubio’s remarks. Republicans, he said, should make the traditional college degree both less costly and less essential, especially by promoting alternatives such as online learning and professional certification.
“Beyond education,” he acknowledged, “there is another obstacle that is keeping too many young Americans from moving ahead”: the disastrous breakdown of family and community among the poor. This breakdown is perhaps the most significant obstacle to economic mobility, and “rather than pretend we know the answer, we should start by engaging those who do important work every day in mentoring young people and leading them on the right path.” Engagement would involve not a new public program, he urged, but “a national conversation about the importance of civil society institutions and leaders in creating the social infrastructure needed for success.”
In all of this, Rubio argued, “government has a role to play, and we must make sure it does its part. But it’s a supporting role: to help create the conditions that enable prosperity in our private economy. That’s a crucial role but a necessarily limited one. It can’t substitute for what it is meant to enable.”
Indeed, both Ryan and Rubio stressed the ways in which a focus on the plight of the poor and the aspirations of the middle class are natural upshots of conservative principles. Unlike some past champions of a poverty and mobility agenda on the right, they offered their ideas not as a counterbalance to conservative economic thinking but as a perfectly natural extension and application of it. Theirs is not a hyphenated conservatism but a full-spectrum conservatism.
Both speeches offered some specific policy ideas, but they could have used more — particularly regarding ways to strengthen the incentives for work and to offset the mistreatment of parents in the tax code. We hope to see both men, and many other Republicans, advancing such particulars in the coming months. But both made the case for an inclusive, hopeful, appealing, conservative vision of mobility — a vision that sits firmly in the Kemp tradition.
Such a case would have been awfully helpful in the last election, but perhaps it was precisely its absence from the Romney campaign’s arsenal of arguments that has driven its subsequent emergence. “Losing is part of politics, and can often prepare the way for the greatest victories,” Ryan noted in his remarks.
Winning is better, but it is very nice to see that the groundwork for those future victories is beginning to be laid.