The Florida Republican spoke about how American capitalism had run aground and how a different understanding of the role of business and markets could save us from drowning. He argued that business had forgotten its obligation to society, describing in detail the disintegration of families and hollowing of communities. Noting the right of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employers, he proposed taxes on stock buybacks, an expanded federal child tax credit, paid parental leave and even a national cooperative bank for domestic investment. And he posed what might be the key question of our time: “Does our country exist to serve the interest of the market, or does the market exist to serve the interest of our nation, and of our people?”
Considering the level of division that seems evident day to day, both the right and the left might be inching toward consensus that capitalism is not working for Americans anymore. Even Republicans realize that the market has ceased to serve the people, that the people have grown to resent it. And that unless business and its GOP allies find a better way, the people will instead.
Into this breach, Rubio now calls for an economy in which “workers and businesses are not competitors for their share of limited resources, but instead partners in an effort that benefits both.”
Rubio is on to something here. Both Democrats and Republicans have grown skeptical of an economic system in which the financial sector’s share of corporate profits has increased from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent over the past four decades at the expense of the average worker. Proud socialists would like to be able to support their families by earning an honest wage, while even self-avowed capitalists would prefer their jobs not be offshored under the guise of “market efficiency.” It’s the rare issue on which Tucker Carlson and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) see eye to eye.
Given the potentially broad bipartisan appeal, it is all the more disappointing then that Rubio chose to surround his new approach with old-fashioned grievances and faux-ideological appeals.
Scattered throughout his remarks were tired references to the “outrage police” and an easily “triggered” left, and coastal-living “political elites” who “incessantly mock” Middle America’s traditional values. He even claimed that he might be hounded by the “blue check brigade” for what he was about to say (News flash, Marco Rubio: You have a blue check on Twitter — and on Instagram, and on Facebook. You’re part of the brigade. And you’re a senator in Washington, D.C. — the very definition of a political elite.)
More importantly, Rubio missed an opportunity to unite and instead opted to divide. Despite the fact that many of its disciples agree wholeheartedly with his economic critiques, the left was derided as “an enthusiastic champion of everyone’s right to free everything,” whose members “rarely focus on our obligation to work.” He described the ideas proposed by Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — which are gaining increasing traction across the country — as un-American and doomed to fail. “We have millions of refugees who came here fleeing socialism who can be witnesses” to that, neglecting to clarify that Medicare-for-all or a wealth tax were not why people fled the Soviet Union or are hiding from Venezuela’s special police force. He spent chunks of his remarks setting himself up as the Good Capitalist to their Bad Socialists.
Which is a shame, because Rubio knows better. In a prior iteration of this speech (its theme first appeared in an article he published in the religious journal First Things), Rubio made a wise observation: “These terms — capitalism, socialism, and their variants — have deep meanings and histories, but today they are more often deployed as surface-level expressions of political identity. This is a reckless way to think about our national inheritance.” He pushed for a way that “sees past our stale partisan categories and roots our politics in something larger: the inviolable dignity of every human person, the work he or she does, and the family life that work supports.”
You were right the first time, Sen. Rubio, and the problem is more urgent than ever. If you’d lay off the straw men, you might find a solution on which we can all agree.