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Rubio and the “Idea” of America

Marco Rubio gave a speech at CPAC yesterday, and delivered a line that summed up a lot of what’s lacking in his understanding of conservatism:

We don’t need a new idea. The idea’s America, and it still works.

At first glance, this is just boilerplate self-congratulation. If this were all that it was, we could probably just ignore it. However, there is a bit more to the line that deserves some comment. Since Rubio was addressing an audience of conservative activists, it isn’t surprising that he gave a speech that avoided serious reflection on movement conservatism’s deficiencies, but it’s interesting that he so completely embraced the movement status quo. John McCormack correctly notes that Rubio’s speech was a rejection of any serious rethinking on matters of policy:

Rather Rubio argued that the three-legged stool of the conservative movement is as sturdy as ever.

Rubio’s speech was an assertion that all was well and conservatives don’t have any real problems. According to Rubio, conservatives have the “idea” of America and need nothing more. Rubio speaks here as if there is only one conception of what America is, and he seems to think that one political movement has exclusive rights to it. This is what comes of a movement that rewards and encourages sloganeering in place of argument. Rubio’s statement is an admission of intellectual exhaustion dressed up as a celebration of conservatism.

This fits in well with what Dan McCarthy pointed out yesterday. Dan wrote:

That’s what you get when you prioritize political technique and ideological checklists over creative engagement with ideas.

Rubio is very good at going through these checklists and making sure to flatter each faction with praise, but after watching him for the last three years I have found that this is usually all that he ever does.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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