Postmodern Conservative

Rubio Studies

The most interesting thing going on right now about the campaign is that most of the Republican experts, for the moment, are thinking that Walker and Rubio are the most viable candidates.

For now, let me think a moment about who’s for Walker and against Rubio. The Koch brothers are, and it seems that the WSJ is. Kimberly Strassel explains why with her complaint that Rubio is not a genuine reformer.

Rubio, we read, got burned on his immigration effort and so has backed off some. So the oligarchs, so to speak, are disappointed that he’s not taking the lead for now. There are various reasons for being for a more liberal or generous immigration policy, and I embrace some of them. But the one that I’m not so sympathetic to is based on a scheme that’s primarily about flooding the country with low-cost labor. Tyler Cowen explains that we should all be for more mobility, and so we should all be for coming closer to open borders so that people from other countries can be more-mobile workers. Cowen admits that the benefit here, for Americans, would primarily come to the rich “job creators,” although he doubts it would hurt relatively unskilled American workers all that much. But it should be easy for an economist to see why ordinary American workers wouldn’t be for a policy from that clearly will not benefit them, and in a time when things are getting tougher in general for said mostly blue-collar workers. But it’s not only blue-collar workers; competition from immigrants also depresses the wages and so forth of ordinary computer programmers in Silicon Valley.

My takeaway: Immigration reform should be based on thinking about citizens. That doesn’t mean nativism. It means thinking through what Chesterton meant when he called America “a home for the homeless,” a nation in which we welcome (within “sustainable” limits) people from all over the world as future American citizens. It also means, though, that claiming the rights of an American citizen is not rent-seeking but securing the privileges we all have by finding our civic home in a particular part of the world.

More important, for Ms. Strassel, is that Rubio is for Senator Mike Lee’s significant tax credit for children. She views that as a way to pander to the middle class — a shameless way of buying votes. The priority, so she says, should be the maximum conceivable cut to the marginal tax rate. If that cut, I must say, is the main thing the Republicans are campaigning on (even or especially combined with union busting), then they don’t have (and don’t deserve) a chance in hell.

It’s reasonable enough to think that some people contribute to the future of our country through taxation, others make their primary contribution through providing us with future citizens. That means it’s not pandering to think about wanting to assist (especially in a non-bureaucratic way) struggling Americans who raise kids, especially when significant parts of the population are dropping below the income level required to readily raise a family.

Joe Kotkin might exaggerate a bit when he writes of “the proletarianization of the middle class,” just as Cowen might exaggerate when he proclaims that “average is over.” But they do call attention to real trends connected with the present and developing division of labor that should tell us that it’s too simple to say that all we need to do is cut taxes and deregulate and everything will be better for everyone. Charles Murray and others are just wrong to say that the breaking apart of America into two disconnected classes can be traced primarily to excessive welfare-state dependency.

I agree that “middle class” is not a legal category in a country where the Constitution recognizes no class or caste. But that doesn’t mean “parent” can’t be, because the Constitution can’t be understood to abolish who we are as free and relational beings born to know, love, and die. And “citizen,” of course, is a real legal category in our Constitution. 

All in all, my view is that Rubio has become more of a reformer. He’s identifying himself with the reform conservatives, who first of all want to reform Republican thinking with genuine conservative concerns, concerns about what a sustainable vision of human liberty requires these days.

I’m not saying I’m endorsing Rubio or writing Walker off. Although Michael Barone has justly criticized all the inanities of our ridiculously long and media-driven presidential nominating process, it might actually serve us well this time. That contest, of course, seems altogether too much like a season of American Idol. The best reason to watch American Idol is to admire how much some of the performers improve over the course of a season. I have such fond hopes for both Rubio and Walker, as well as for a number of the others.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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