Don’t Believe the Hype: Marco Rubio Has No New Ideas

The object of David Brooks's affection, drinking from a bottle of water.

The object of David Brooks’s affection, drinking from a bottle of water.

“While other candidates are repeating the formulas of the 1980s and 1990s,” David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column last night, Senator Marco “Rubio is a child of this century. He understands that it’s no longer enough to cut taxes and say bad things about government to produce widespread prosperity.”

Oh boy. Anyone who watched the GOP debate on Wednesday knew we were up for a whole bunch of “Rubio rising” articles by end of day Friday. It’s what the media does. But I was not prepared for Brooks’s article, which teeters on the edge of gushing before just falling over into full rah-rah mode. Brooks praises Rubio for being “one of the few candidates who actually gives” policy speeches, although he dampens his own praise with the caveat that “it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans.” But then he gets a little worked up praising Rubio for wanting to “simplify the tax code, reduce rates and move us toward a consumption-based system by reducing taxes on investment.” He also adores Rubio for pushing “a big $2,500 child tax credit” and for calling to “reform the earned-income tax credit and extend it to cover childless workers,” as well as pushing welfare spending to the states. Rubio, he concludes is a “balance of marketing and product.”

Okay, first of all: baaaaaaaaarf. Brooks is so smitten with Rubio that his writing has taken on the timber and logic of a mash note. Second of all, I’ve written at length about all the ways that Marco Rubio represents the politics of the past. Don’t believe me? As I said, Rubio is “against equal pay for women (that’s an issue from 1972,) he’s backwards on marijuana reform (basically lifted from Richard Nixon’s 1971 War on Drugs announcement,) and he blasted Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty exactly 50 years to the day after it was announced. Because he’s timely like that.” But there’s so much more. Rubio is entirely against abortion, even in the case of rape or if the mother’s life is endangered. He’s against same-sex marriage. And his policies are exactly the same trickle-down baloney Republicans have been serving for decades now.

Possibly the newest idea that Rubio embraces is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which he explains as a way to fight poverty. The EITC was until recently disliked by conservatives, probably because they hate the word “tax” so much that they sometimes get confused and hate tax credits, too. But it’s come into favor among the young Republicans who’ve risen to power in the last few years. And, you know what? I’m in favor of the EITC, too. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump on board with Brooks’s love-fest. Because Rubio’s support of the EITC is just a sop he’s throwing at poverty, so he doesn’t have to do any of the hard work that’s expected of him.

Rubio’s plan does nothing to address the causes of poverty; expanding the EITC is literally the least a Republican presidential candidate could do without getting laughed off the debate stage. Rubio has opposed raising the minimum wage, and he’s against worker rights. What he’s advocating for, here, is a government handout to support predatory employers who don’t pay their employees a living wage. In fact, Rubio has admitted that “You can’t live on $10 an hour. You can’t live on $11 an hour,” but he told Charlie Rose in 2013 thatMinimum wage laws have never worked in terms of having the middle class attain more prosperity.” That’s just wrong.

Some of the more easily impressed members of the media, like Brooks, are going to trumpet Rubio’s supposed forward-thinking policies in the next few weeks. Don’t believe them. This is the same old trickle down narrative with a few gimmicks layered on top. What Rubio is interested in is supporting the rickety structure that conservatives have built over the last few years. He’s not bringing any new ideas to the trickle down narrative, he’s just trying to contain the damage that his own party has done over the last thirty years.

Daily Clips: October 30th, 2015

This Republican field has achieved full “Palinization”: So says Charles Pierce, who argues that the “Palinization of conservative rhetoric is now complete.” By this, he means that candidates can avoid any serious policy questions by simply saying “Liberal media!” While the 2012 field was “a completely undisciplined wing nut buffet,” Pierce argues that 2016’s current crop “is spinning even further out of control.”

Why is Hillary so eager to leave big issues in state hands? Marijuana, the death penalty, immigration, same-sex marriage…you name it and Clinton “has adopted a stance of convenient federalism, deferring to the states rather than choosing to nudge them in the right direction.”

Too true. I pointed towards her pragmatic progressivism yesterday with regard to capital punishment, saying that, in general, it’s a good strategy for getting the presidential nomination. However, Beutler warns her that “if she isn’t willing to get out in front of contentious state-based concerns, I imagine many of those efforts will falter or stagnate on her watch.”

Bernie Sanders’ not-so-radical marijuana idea: This week, Bernie called for the US federal government to lift its prohibition on the devil’s lettuce. Unlike Hillary (as we mentioned in the above article), the Vermont Senator must be applauded for his unfaltering leadership on messy issues. But these “radical ideas” are actually quite mainstream. As this article notes, “when Americans are polled on specific issues, majorities tend to agree with him on matters from taxation to family leave.”

1 in 2 working Americans make less than $30,000 a year: Nothing to say here. We must do all we can to change this pathetic reality.

Why did Hillary Clinton come out against abolishing the death penaliy?

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton irritated progressives again, this time with regard to capital punishment (aka the government legally killing criminals). When asked about this topic, Clinton firmly stated, “I do not favor abolishing [capital punishment]…because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states.”

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley took this opportunity to attack Clinton’s centrist answer by highlighting their support of abolishing capital punishment. O’Malley, in particular, had some strong words for Hillary Clinton:

Secretary Clinton is often a bit behind the times in terms of actually what works when it comes to policy. I respect her. I have a great deal of respect for her, but she’s often late to many of these issues because she’s of a different generation than I am.

While I agree with Governor O’Malley’s points and overall tactic, he must also know that 61 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. Only 37 percent are opposed. It’s easy to see why Hillary, ever the pragmatic progressive, has come out in favor of capital punishment for “certain egregious cases.” She’s doing so because she doesn’t want this type of a moment presented to her:

Clinton’s conciliatory language on capital punishment is similar to how she has responded to calls for marijuana legalization (“There should be availability [of medical marijuana] under appropriate circumstances. But I do think we need more research…”). Her answers are thoughtful, yet pandering; progressive, yet centrist.

Simply put, Clinton is trying to win the presidency, not just the Democratic nomination. To do so, she must hold centrist positions on certain issues. That’s politics.

While Sanders and O’Malley are on the right side of history when it comes to capital punishment, the American people still lag behind them. Let’s face it: our nation has an insatiable appetite for murderous retribution. However, directing our frustration towards Hillary Clinton solves nothing on this matter. She isn’t holding America back from becoming a more forgiving and morally righteous country – we, the people, are.

Daily Clips: October 29th, 2015

The 3rd GOP Debate was an exercise in economic fantasy: All the candidates last night peddled trickle-down fantasies for their rich overlords, leaving middle-class Americans to pick up the scraps.

…What stood out was the candidates’ refusal to own up to the details of the one policy they have embraced as an economic panacea for all Americans: Huge, deficit-busting tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy over ordinary Americans—the same supply-side logic that informed George W. Bush’s economic policy.

The third Republican debate explained: Here’s a great overview of the night by Matthew Yglesias. He notes how “Jeb Bush appeared to vanish,” Ted Cruz avoided any substance, and Rubio got away with not answering hard questions on his trickle-down tax policy.

US economy doesn’t grow much – only up 1.5 percent in the third quarter: The American economy grew at half the pace of the previous quarter, however American households “have remained resilient.” Consumer spending increased by 3.2 percent from July to September and “business investment in equipment was also strong.”

Paul Ryan elected 54th House speaker: Kiss your career goodbye, Paul “D.” Ryan.

Nobody Mentioned the Minimum Wage in Tonight’s GOP “Economic” Debate

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican frontrunners.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican frontrunners.

In terms of pure optics, Marco Rubio obviously won the GOP debate tonight, and Jeb Bush lost. That early confrontation between the two men positioned Rubio as a good communicator and Bush as a terrible one, and that narrative stuck for the rest of the night. Bush practically disappeared, while Rubio dominated the rest of the debate. The narrative about Bush quitting is going to gain steam after this disastrous performance.

So far as the other candidates go: Donald Trump and Ben Carson continued to float over all the other candidates on their expectation-free clouds; they neither won nor lost, because typical campaign physics don’t apply to them right now. Chris Christie had a good night, but it won’t be enough to save his campaign from irrelevancy. Ted Cruz earned a few more votes. Carly Fiorina delivered another whopping lie with a straight face, but it wasn’t enough to kick her out of the middle of the pack. Nobody else mattered.

But let’s reflect on what matters, here: tonight’s Republican debate was purportedly on the topic of economics. Instead, we saw every single candidate whine about their media coverage. Nobody mentioned the minimum wage. Income inequality barely came up. As I predicted, their proposed solutions to America’s economic problems involved tax cuts and removing regulations and all the other trickle-down techniques we’ve seen since the dawn of time.

The CNBC moderators did a terrible job of keeping the candidates in line—in fact, Rubio and the rest trampled the moderators at every opportunity—and they didn’t press the candidates on the issues that matter. So instead, the public has to wrestle with the same impossible math problem they’ve been handed at the end of every Republican debate in recent memory: if government can’t raise any more money, and if government is supposed to increase the size of the military, and if government can’t raise the minimum wage or fix health care or provide Social Security or fix runaway college debt, how the hell are ordinary Americans supposed to improve their status? How is anything going to get any better? That’s the one question that matters, and the Republicans didn’t bother to answer.

Please Don’t Die of Alcohol Poisoning During Tonight’s Debate

Has there ever been a more violent low five in the entire history of low fives?

Has there ever been a more violent low five in the entire history of low fives?

Tonight’s GOP presidential debate will undoubtedly be interesting*. You can’t get Donald Trump and the scions of the Paul and Bush families into the same room without something noteworthy happening, in a ghastly sort of this-is-so-terrible-my-brain-is-interpreting-it-as-entertaining sort of way. John Kasich is itching for a fight. Chris Christie is practicing being extra-loud. Jeb Bush has been floundering in the polls and in fundraising, and he’s getting ready to target Marco Rubio. Rand Paul basically doesn’t exist anymore. Donald Trump is running second to Ben Carson. There will be fireworks, and attacks, and all sorts of ugliness. I’ll be live-tweeting the whole debate on the Civic Skunk Works Twitter feed.

But as the first Democratic debate of the year proved, all that hoopla over who’s yelling at which person and why doesn’t really matter. Tonight’s debate is supposed to be about jobs and the economy. Whenever Republican presidential candidates get together to talk about the economy, the clown shoes come out and the baloney starts flying. The problem is that every single candidate on that stage—every candidate, without exception—is running on the same failed trickle-down economic narrative that has been around since the Reagan administration. You’d think a crowd that diverse—from sitting senators to long-since-retired governors to real estate magnates to brain surgeons—would be able to come up with at least one single good, new idea. But no.

So here are some drinking game rules for tonight’s debate:

  • DO A SHOT whenever a candidate says lowering taxes on the wealthy will help the middle class.
  • If a candidate calls raising taxes on the wealthy “redistribution,” DRINK AS MANY OF YOUR NEIGHBORS’ DRINKS AS YOU CAN.
  • DRAIN YOUR BEER whenever a candidate says cutting regulations will result in more jobs.
  • ORDER A MARTINI when a candidate refuses to support raising the minimum wage.
  • DRINK THE MARTINI when a candidate says that cutting the corporate tax rate is better for workers than a minimum wage.
  • DRINK A FLAMING SHOT when someone says a minimum wage hurts workers.
  • DO A SHOT OF PURE RYE when someone suggests that economic policies which favor the rich actually help everyone.
  • If someone says environmental regulations are killing the economy, DRINK SOMETHING LOCALLY SOURCED AND SMALL-BATCH.
  • DO A JAEGER BOMB if someone’s job creation pitch involves the Keystone Pipeline.
  • When someone says the deficit is killing jobs, DRINK A GIN AND TONIC AND THEN EAT THE LIME GARNISH WHOLE.
  • I could keep going, but the truth is that if you played by these rules, you’d probably be dead within thirty minutes of the first question of the debate.

    Look, the trickle down story is absolute bunk. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. We’ve got more than thirty years of data proving that if you give money to the top one percent, they’ll keep it and demand more. The middle class are the true job creators in the American economy, but the odds are good that they’ll only be mentioned a handful of times tonight, if they’re mentioned at all. Tonight’s debate will bring some clashes and some unintentional comedy, but the one thing it’s sure to deliver is more of the same tired old economics talk conservatives have been handing us for most of our natural lives.

    * Well, the big kids’ table debate will be interesting. The earlier kids’ table debate with Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum will be kind of weird but mostly boring and occasionally terrifying.

    Daily Clips: October 28th, 2015

    Top 100 CEO Retirement Savings Equals 41% of All U.S. Families Retirement Savings: Before I woke up this morning, I had no clue that 100 CEOs retirement savings were equal to the total savings of over 116 million Americans. Where’s the outrage on that issue? Why isn’t our media relentlessly talking about this injustice? Why do middle-class Americans accept this reality? Why aren’t we more angry about this?

    Look, inequality must exist and in many ways it is a powerful force for innovation – a vital ingredient in a capitalist economy. But these levels of inequality are not beneficial to anyone but the 100 CEOs and their families (for generations to come). Nick Hanauer made this case in his viral TED Talk:

    Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough super-rich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the median American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

    Inequality at these levels isn’t just morally wrong, it’s also absolutely terrible for our economy.

    Is there a silver lining to Citizens United? The New York Times’ Thomas “Don’t Forget the B” Edsall asked this provocative question in his latest column. He goes onto enumerate the many instances where “reformers have been forced to look toward innovative legislation at the city and state level.” This immediately reminded me of I-122 in Seattle, which is on the ballot right now. If you haven’t already read Civic Skunk Works’ endorsement of I-122, you can do so here!

    The column was admittedly quite dry, but one line in particular stood out for me: “The thing about money is that it always seems to find a way around the rules.”

    Republicans remain divided as Democrats unite: Norm Ormstein writes about the general trends of the presidential nominations for both parties and his analysis, to say the least, is fantastic. Norm was born in 1948, but that doesn’t stop him from proclaiming that Hillary Clinton’s last couple of weeks have been the “best two weeks I have ever seen for a candidate.” High praise.

    GOP campaigns erupt over greenrooms at third GOP debate: The petulance never ends. This time campaigns “accused the committee of allotting them less-than-hospitable greenroom spaces  while unfairly giving lavish ones to higher-polling candidates, such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson.” Supposedly Christie & Rand Paul got their own janitorial-esque rooms, while Fiorina was given a greenroom with a sauna.

    Nick Hanauer: “For as long as human beings have challenges and problems, we will have jobs”

    Yesterday, Nick Hanauer spoke at a Brookings Institution forum which “explored the impact of robots, AI, and machine learning on the workforce.” Hanauer was joined by Scott Santens, a leading advocate for universal basic income (UBI). (If you don’t know what UBI entails, here’s an explanatory article). The conversation which followed between Hanauer and Santens provided an interesting and philosophical examination on the future of the US economy.

    In his opening statement, Nick Hanauer attacked the prevailing narrative of a dystopian future caused by robots and automation:

    We have a choice about the kind of arrangements we can have [in our economy]. Technological innovation is always disruptive…The better the innovation the more disruption there will be. And that implies this very simple principle of civic, social, and political life which is: the point of it all is for civic innovation to match the pass of technological and commercial innovation. And if we do that collectively, we’ve got a fantastic future ahead of us. And if we fail to do that, we’re going to have all sorts of problems.

    You can see his full answer here:

    This is not a new idea. Earlier this year, Nick Hanauer and David Rolf wrote a lengthy article in Democracy Journal called, “Shared Security, Shared Growth.” Here, Hanauer and Rolf proposed their own civic solutions in response to the disruptive nature of the “gig economy.” Within this piece, they put forward big ideas which could fundamentally improve the economy. As Paul Waldman at the Washington Post wrote:

    The Shared Security Account is a fairly radical idea, re-imagining the relationship between employment and the benefits that are now associated with it. And there are lots of practical questions that would have to be answered before something like it could be implemented. But just as the fact that we get health benefits through our jobs is nothing more than an accident of history, there’s no reason that sick leave and vacation need to rely on the generosity of your boss. And if someone like Hillary Clinton wants to show that she’s got new ideas for helping the middle class exist in today’s (and tomorrow’s) economy, an idea like this one isn’t a bad place to start.

    Waldman is correct. And at the heart of Hanauer’s call for civic innovation is a belief in the ability of humans to respond to changing times in a positive way. As he says at around the 48 minute mark, “The better we help people transition, the better off we will be.”