Marco Rubio's rhetoric of moderation

Obama sounded more moderate than Hillary, because he spent more time talking about giving the people with whom he disagrees the “presumption of good faith.” That’s what Rubio is doing now. When the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal nationally, Bobby Jindal shrieked, “The Supreme Court is completely out of control … If we want to save some money, let’s just get rid of the court.” Rubio, by contrast, declared that, “Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country.” He added that, “A large number of Americans will continue to believe in traditional marriage, and a large number of Americans will be pleased with the Court’s decision today. In the years ahead, it is my hope that each side will respect the dignity of the other.” But Rubio still thinks gay marriage is wrong.

Asked in August about African American anger at the police, Rubio responded that, “this is a legitimate issue … we do need to face this.” Many African Americans, he went on, “feel they’re locked out of the promise of this country and the result is the anxiety and the frustration that you’re seeing expressed.” But in between all these declarations of sympathy, Rubio also said that there is not “a federal bill that can fix all these problems.” When it comes to drug laws, in fact, he’s stuck closer to the traditional Republican law-and-order line than some of his GOP rivals.

This isn’t to say that Rubio hasn’t deviated at all from conservative orthodoxy. His tax plan, for instance, avoids a big income-tax cut for the wealthy. But because of the way he talks, observers tend to exaggerate Rubio’s moderation, at least on social issues, in the same way they once exaggerated Obama’s.