Earlier this week, I wrote about Sen. Marco Rubio’s major national speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., noting that the ideas he espoused are the very ideas that will serve as the foundation for any electoral success the GOP enjoys in 2012. Several readers tweeted at and e-mailed me to express their support for Rubio. “What’s not to like?” one asked. Townhall’s Erika Johnsen put it this way: “I can’t believe how much truth he delivers in speeches, teleprompter-free and even off the cuff.”
But to MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, Rubio’s common sense call for personal responsibility and limited government qualified as “Psycho Talk.” Last night on his show, Schultz featured Rubio in a segment so-called (h/t Newsbusters.org).
“Florida Senator Marco Rubio got some good press this week for saving Nancy Reagan from a fall at a Reagan Library event,” Schultz said as he teased to the segment. “But when it comes to the rest of the American senior citizens, Rubio wants to leave them high and dry.”
Schultz then took objection to Rubio’s statements on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, saying “political hacks like Marco Rubio, who want to get rid of social safety nets” are “what’s weakening our people.”
What were the crazy words that so stirred up Mr. Schultz? Read ’em for yourself:
These [entitlement] programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever it was institutions and society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and for your future because you had to. But all of that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. And as government crowded out the institutions in our society that did these things traditionally, it weakened our people.
That’s right. Schultz thinks it’s “psycho” to suggest the most effective social safety net is the family and a strong sense of community.
But to be clear, Rubio didn’t even suggest we eliminate Social Security and Medicare. He simply acknowledged one of the most basic economic truths: People respond to incentives. As the government provided Social Security dollars for retirement and Medicare dollars for health care, folks had less incentive to save for themselves. Unfortunately, people came to rely too heavily on these entitlement programs — such that the programs themselves are broke and, yet, folks aren’t fully in a position to do without them.
No politician would say a word about entitlement reform if entitlement programs weren’t bankrupting the country. Certainly, it’s not politically savvy to tell constituents the government will have to do less for its people than it presently attempts to do. (But note that word “attempts”! It doesn’t actually do what it purports to do in that our much-vaunted and much-maligned entitlement programs presently amount to little more than trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.) Shoot, it’s such a politically unpalatable thing to say we need entitlement reform that even conservative columnist Byron York over at The Washington Examiner has juggled the numbers by whatever means necessary to make a case that Republicans need not run on entitlement reform in 2012, recognizing, as so many do, that it’s hard a platform with which to win voters. And his column does make sense from an electoral strategy perspective — but it doesn’t change the inescapable reality that entitlement programs need to be reformed and the sooner, the better.
Rubio’s message is simple and it’s a far more hopeful one than any President Obama has delivered. It’s that we as Americans don’t need the government to provide for our retirement or for our health care. Yes, we need the government to provide certain services we can’t provide for ourselves — like national defense. And yes, it’s nice, when the nation can afford it, to know the most basic of social safety nets is in place.
But, when it comes to our day-to-day needs, we can provide for ourselves and for our neighbors. Admittedly, conservatives who extol this truth have to put their money where their mouths are: They have to work diligently and give generously. Otherwise, it’s just talk. But, as it turns out, most conservatives do. Republicans, for example, give more to charity than do Democrats.
For anyone who has never been taught that it is possible to earn success (and that you’ll be happier for having earned it!), for everyone who has always been told to look to the government or to someone else for provision and guidance, Rubio’s message is intensely liberating. You need not be indebted to a government that manipulates your vote with promises of treats. You need look no further than the end of your arms for the hands to help — or maybe, in especially tough times, to your family, friends and other local institutions. You needn’t even be spared the consequences of your failures (and failure, in itself, can be liberating — for proof, look at all the successful men in our history were refined in the fires of failure, from the ready example of Thomas Edison to Michael Jordan!). You can take advantage of the opportunities before you, build a network of familiar support and live free of government interference.
That sounds anything but ugly to me.