Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and things yet to come
Two major players gave us a taste of what this fight will look like in the years running up to 2016 last night. Only time will tell which one was one is right
Last night we were treated to President Obama's first State of the Union address in his second term. As expected it was a hymn to the virtues of big government. From the fallacy that increasing the minimum wage reduces poverty to authoritarian threats of executive action over climate change if Congress does not act in the way the president so desires. All went as expected.
But it wasn’t the tiresome platitudes about 'fairness' that were of interest last night, rather the response form two increasingly significant players in the Republican party: Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
The official Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio – who was recently put on the cover of Time magazine with the heading: 'The Republican Saviour' – is the son of hard working Cuban immigrants and is the embodiment of an American success story. Long tipped for great things, the party's choice of him to deliver the official GOP response to the State of the Union solidifies his rising star status and his chances of capturing the party's nomination in 2016.
Rubio told the nation of his own story of a father who was a bar tender and a mother who was maid. He spoke movingly about the immigrant story and is wisely helping change the attitudes in the Republican Party to appeal to a large and ambitious demographic.
He made a strong case for a freer economy, explaining calmly and clearly how big government makes ordinary Americans, not just the rich, poorer and less free. He delivered a strong statement on the issue of Obamacare and its effects on Americans who had health insurance and are now losing it and employers refusing to hire more workers due to the extra cost of employment.
He spoke of how government was 'wisely limited by the constitution'. The proposals for a balanced budget amendment, entitlement reform and school choice were all reminders of why Rubio has been so warmly received by the conservative movement and increasingly by the Republican establishement.
But when one looks at what Rubio is offering and compares it to Republican leaders of the last 20 years, this message does not seem like the free market and limited government response to Obama it may seem.
After a coherent attack on the vices of big government came praise of some of the damaging federal programmes. Rubio praised medicare and social security and spoke of reforming these programmes to 'save' them.
Rubio outlined his support for federal aid for students going to college. He seems to suffer from the same folly as the President, believing that it is only the government that enables the poor to attend college rather than seeing that with government-guaranteed loans and federal aid colleges across the country, America can increase their prices well above inflation knowing that the federal government will eventually pick up the tab.
On Foreign policy Rubio remained very much in the Republican mainstream stating that “The world is a better place when America is the strongest nation on earth”. He lamented the prospect of the sequester and the possibility of “devastating cuts to our military”.
For those who have grown weary of Republican rhetoric about small government, Rubio's remarks will strike them as the familiar words of a rising star but one who in the end will not risk the chance of higher office by offering a true alternative.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky delivered the official Tea party response to the State of the Union. Although not broadcast on major networks it has been widely covered by the national media. This response was not so much addressed to the country but to the conservative and libertarian movements.
It would certainly be true to say that Rubio outclassed Paul in his style of speech.
Paul’s message was however much more substantive.
Within the first minute of his remarks he was speaking of America's debt crisis. Challenging the President's stance on taxes, Paul stated that “What America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith” and attacked the entitlement mentality of “something for nothing”.
In speaking of the sequester, Paul mocked the President's concern over these minor cuts and the Republicans who join him. He noted that even if the sequester was to come to pass, federal government spending would grow by seven trillion dollars over the next decade. Like Rubio, Paul endorsed a balanced budget amendment showing signs that it is becoming increasingly popular within the Republican Party.
Rather than bemoaning the partisan nature of Washington he attacked the bi-partisanship which had allowed spending to soar over the past 10 years. Paul challenged both sides of the isle to abandon sacred cows. Democrats must be willing to cut entitlements, he argued, and Republicans must be willing to cut the military.
Although he didn't specifically mention the federal reserve by name, he referred to the perils of money printing and currency debasement.
We were given some specifics which included proposals to halve the corporate tax rate and a flat personal income tax of 17 percent. Paul stated that he would be bringing forward proposals for a balanced budget in five years. If true this would be one of the most radical budgets proposed in a generation considering the fact that the supposedly extreme Ryan budget plan only balanced the budget by 2040.
Paul agreed with Rubio on recognising the importance of immigration reform. With Paul and Rubio both championing immigration reform it’s hard to see how the wider party will not adapt in some way to this issue.
Agreeing with Rubio, Paul vowed to defend the second amendment but empahsised that Republicans should stand for protecting all constitutional freedoms including trial by jury and rights against unlawful searches and seizures as outlined in the fourth amendment. Paul attacked the use of executive orders and promised that no president should be allowed to act like a king and this included putting American citizens on a kill list.
These two men in their speeches found broad agreement on areas such as immigration, school choice and opposition to tax increases. But no one should be mistaken in thinking that these two are singing from the same hymn sheet and only have minor disagreements.
Both are clearly going to run for the Republican nomination in 2016 but before then, they will each be fighting for the soul and future direction of the Republican Party.
Rubio, for all his rhetoric, represents the mainstream Republican establishment with a slightly greater emphasis on fiscal conservatism than foreign or social policy.
Paul, while by no means as radical as his father, is a libertarian; but not only is he able to talk to the Conservative mainstream, he is actually listened to. At the Heritage Foundation, Paul outlined his vision of a foreign policy which breaks with the past. Paul is attempting to present a Republican party that is no longer associated with constant interventions overseas, endless rises in defence spending and a destruction of civil liberties. This will be major dividing line between the two.
Paul is committed to auditing the Pentagon while Rubio calls the sequester cuts to military spending devastating; Paul opposed the Patriot Act, Rubio supported it.
Paul is still the outsider but has earned the right to be heard and there is an ever-growing market for a party against big government not just in terms of tax and spend but also a more humble foreign policy, reducing the role of the executive, restoring civil liberties and respecting states’ rights when it comes to issues such as drug legalization.
The old alliance between conservatives and libertarians which began during the cold war looks like a marriage heading for divorce. It is increasingly difficult for the two to avoid fights on major issues.
The question will be which one will be able to lead the Republican Party out of its current wilderness. Two major players in this narrative gave us a taste of what this fight will look like in the years running up to 2016. Only time will tell which one was one is right.
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