This could have been a column insisting that Marco Rubio run for president of the United States. Now. Even though he has ruled out the possibility. Even though he is but a first-term senator. (Neither of these considerations has invariably stopped people in the past.)
But no: That’s not this column. Not because I don’t think it might be a good idea, but because I take the man at his word. Rubio has a young family that just endured a long and brutal campaign. And in truth, I’m actually not a fan of reaching for the presidency after just a few minutes in the Senate. As one seasoned political pro put it to me last week: “We don’t do ourselves or our future leaders any favors by rushing the wine before its time. Reagan would not have been nearly as good a president had he won in ’68 or ’76 as he was in ’80, having been tempered by failure and steeled by defeat and adversity.”
Marco Rubio is not a savior; no man is. I get nervous when we act as if any politician is more than he is. Rubio is a great freshman senator. He has shown composure in eschewing the rock-star role for which people have said he is cut out. (Far from jumping into the limelight, he waited until June to give his first speech on the Senate floor.) He doesn’t appear to have been poisoned by his press clippings or derailed by the hype. He is impressive, but he is not infallible.
So I will leave the Draft Rubio efforts to others. There’s a website, and there are phone calls, and I suspect that both will show an uptick when he gives his speech on the role of government at the Reagan Library in California later this month.
But you don’t have to be in favor of drafting him to notice that when Marco Rubio speaks, people listen. He brings to the Senate floor all the frustration, impatience, and concern for the future of the republic that fueled the tea-party movement and brought him, among others, to Washington last January. He does so with seeming ease, clarifying the issues and laying out the alternatives.
After speaking on the Senate floor the last Saturday in July, the Florida freshman gained 14 approval points, according to a Quinnipiac poll of his state’s voters. This, because of a Saturday speech during the debt-ceiling debate.
So what did he say? “Yes we can”? Well, yes. But with Rubio, there was actually some substance to it. And nothing patronizing.
In that weekend speech, he blasted “compromise without solutions” as a “waste of time.” He said: “If my house was on fire, I can’t compromise about which part of the house I’m going to save. You save the whole house or it will all burn down. We either save this country or we do not. And to save it, we must seek solutions.”
Before voting against the debt-ceiling deal, he said, “Americans are looking at Washington with anger, disgust, and concern that maybe America’s problems are just too big for our leaders to solve.” With “courage,” he went on, “spending cuts and caps, saving Medicare and Social Security from bankruptcy, a constitutional balanced-budget amendment, tax reform, and regulatory reform” would be a start.
Later that afternoon, he offered some closing thoughts, laying out the competing worldviews that rule Washington. And as if reminding voters that you get the government you ask for, he noted that the divide wasn’t a Washington creation: It reflects the divide among Americans about what we think government is and should be for.
“We borrow $120 billion a month to pay our $300-billion-a-month bill,” Rubio said. “And that’s just too much money. That’s too much money for Republicans; it’s too much money for Democrats. It’s just too much money.” Nothing to disagree with there. “The debate is how do we solve it, how do we generate more money for government and reduce the spending, at the same time?”
And so we debate the role of government over and over again. Does it exist to provide economic justice or opportunity? Do we tax the rich more, because they make more money than they need, or do we bring in more taxpayers? “They are two very different visions of the role of government in America. But it lies at the heart of the debate that we’re having as a nation.”
And there may not always be a compromise; sometimes choices need to be made. “Ultimately, we may find that between these two points there may not be a middle ground,” Rubio said. “And that, in fact, as a nation and as a people, we must decide what we want the role of government to be in America, moving forward.”
I could go on. But you can listen yourself. And if you happen to be a presidential candidate, you should listen especially closely to a conversation Rubio recently had with Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee. Ryan is another member of Congress who is getting nudged to run for president. Why? Because he wants to find solutions. Because he knows of what he speaks. Because he can communicate. Because it seems that he is in Washington not because he loves spending time there but because he wants to ensure that his kids have a future in which America is still exceptional and in which working-class Americans can dream of upward mobility without being delusional. (As Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith might have done if the technology had existed, on that Saturday night — after his speech and after ably engaging John Kerry in a colloquy — Rubio tweeted pictures of the Lincoln memorial and of the view from the spot where MLK gave his Dream speech. And as if that weren’t enough, as soon as the Senate went into recess, he helped Boy Scouts earn merit badges by answering their letters via YouTube.)
This goes to the heart of his message: We face a “generational choice,” and every citizen has the power of helping to write the story of how we kept the American dream alive.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.