In a characteristically compelling speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Marco Rubio framed the November 2012 election is sweeping terms: The choice voters will face this fall, he said, will be whether America will remain a great nation or whether it will recede into the background.

“The most powerful thing about our nation is the American example,” Rubio said. “Anywhere you go in the world people know that there is a person just like them living here doing things they cannot. They realize it doesn’t have to be the way it is for them. Do you know why people sacrifice their lives and struggle to access democracy across the world? Because they’ve seen what can happen here.”

Rubio reminded the audience that America doesn’t have to be the exception; it can easily follow the pattern Europe has set for it and other once-dominant regions of the world have set. But the consequences won’t be pleasant for the U.S. — or the rest of the world.

“What happens if we decide we don’t want to be the greatest country in the world?” Rubio asked. “Someone else will fill that space. Right now, the only nations that could even try to do it are nations that don’t believe what we do. … Do you know why they cannot vote to condemn Syria? Because they reserve the right to do to their own people what Syria has done to its people if their governments are threatened.”

The conservative movement, at its core, wants to preserve America’s greatness for future generations, Rubio said. Tax and regulatory reform, energy exploration, entitlement reform — conservative policy prescriptions all aim to ensure that people have the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams and, in the process, create prosperity for the nation.

“You have to be strong economically; you have to be strong militarily,” Rubio said. “But you know what else has to be strong? Your people have to be strong.”

Rubio urged voters to embrace the weight of exceptionalism.

“The greatest thing we can do for the world is be America,” he said. “We Americans are uncomfortable too often by our nature by the idea that we are who we are. We would prefer for everyone to reach the same conclusions we have on their own. I think it’s important to realize … being an American is a blessing and it’s also a responsibility — [to] do the right things at home to ensure we’re an example to the rest of the world.”

Update (Allahpundit): Here’s the video. Click the image to watch.

Update (Ed): Before he gave this speech, Senator Rubio met with conservative bloggers and journalists in a 30-minute meeting. I’m trying to get more of the meeting uploaded — I videotaped the whole thing — but I do have the opening statement on tape.  Rubio said that Barack Obama was right in that he inherited a bad situation, but he got everything he wanted from a Democratic Congress and made everything worse as a result.  Far from apologizing for America’s impact on the world, Obama should recognize that “the world is safer and more prosperous because of the American century”:

Matt Lewis and Jim Geraghty have more on the briefing.  A few of my highlights from the Q&A, which I hope to compile in a later video:

  • Rubio is pleased that the GOP is positioning itself as the pro-legal immigration party.
  • Iran uses terror as “statecraft” and the normal working of its foreign policy; we need to impose “crippling sanctions” and leave all other options on the table to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon
  • Most Americans are conservative, Rubio said, and says we can see that in the dynamics of the Republican and Democratic parties.  Republicans compete to see who is the most reliable conservative, the most like Ronald Reagan; why don’t we see Democrats competing for the title of “most liberal” or most like Jimmy Carter?
  • Having the US without a budget is just “weird,” Rubio says, and it’s unbelievable that the most powerful nation on the planet cannot pass a budget.