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.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.