There is no doubt something, if not someone, has been missing in the GOP presidential primary. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has plenty of red meat. Mitt Romney has lots of business acumen. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has energy and a searing indictment of President Obama. But what conservatives haven’t seen is some optimism — and some vision. If they need a primer on how to bring those qualities to the campaign they should take some time to review a speech by freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at the Reagan Library:

It is devoid of ad hominem attacks. It doesn’t even include an indictment of the Democratic Party. It isn't especially tough on President Obama (“I know that it is popular in my party to blame the President, the current President. But the truth is the only thing this President has done is accelerate policies that were already in place and were doomed to fail. All he is doing through his policies is making the day of reckoning come faster, but it was coming nonetheless.”)

What he does do is tell listeners what conservatism is about:

I don’t really like labels in politics, but I will gladly accept the label of conservatism. Conservatism is not about leaving people behind. Conservatism is about empowering people to catch up, to give them the tools at their disposable that make it possible for them to access all the hope, all the promise, all the opportunity that America offers. And our programs to help them should reflect that.

Now, yes, there are people that cannot help themselves. And those folks we will always help. We are too rich and prosperous a nation to leave them to fend for themselves. But all the others that can work should be given the means of empowering themselves to enter the marketplace and the workforce. And our programs and our policies should reflect that. We do need a safety net, but it cannot be a way of life. It must be there to help those who have fallen, to stand up and try again.

He is also unflinching on the nature of the challenge is for both parties:

What we have now is not sustainable. The role of government and the role that government plays now in America cannot be sustained the way it is. Now some are worried about how it has to change, we have to change it. The good news is it is going to change. It has to change. That’s not the issue. The issue is not whether the role that government now plays in America will change. The question is how will it change. Will it change because we make the changes necessary? Or will it change because our creditors force us to make these changes?

And over the next few moments I hope to advocate to you – I don’t think that I have to given the make up the crowd – but I hope to advocate to you that in fact what we have before us is a golden opportunity afforded to few Americans.

We have the opportunity – within our lifetime – to actually craft a proper role for government in our nation that will allow us to come closer than any Americans have ever come to our collective vision of a nation where both prosperity and compassion exist side-by-side.

Candidates who want to lead a party, a movement and a country in very difficult times need to show they are bigger than technocratic proposals and partisan rhetoric. They could learn a thing or two from Rubio, and would be wise to follow his example.