In recent months, the Republican Party and its intellectual braintrust have been debating how to offer a competing vision of social justice that promotes economic mobility, fosters personal responsbility and maintains a safety net for the truly needy. In a widely-circulated article in Commentary published in February 2014, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, and a Catholic, called on conservatives to do more than take pot shots at President Obama:
[T]he administration’s failure to achieve the president’s stated goals is nothing for his opponents to celebrate. Few conservatives begrudge the wealthy their gains, and many are skeptical that income inequality is meaningful in and of itself. But the fact that many Americans continue to suffer years after the technical end of the Great Recession should offend any sense of plain justice. The administration’s pathetic performance demands not schadenfreude, but answers. Conservatives need a social-justice agenda of their own.
It seems that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida -- a rising star in the GOP who is comfortable engaging radioactive issues like same-sex marriage -- has been listening carefully and is prepared to jump into the conversation. The text of his address is here.
During a substantive address at The Catholic University of America, Rubio argued that U.S.leaders need to promote moral truths and practical policies that can help struggling Americans create stable, successful families.
In America, if you get an education, find a good job, and wait until marriage to have children, your chances of achieving economic security and professional fulfillment are incredibly high. In fact, if everyone in America lived lives that went in this order, in the order I’ve just outlined, some estimates are that the poverty rate would be cut by an estimated 70 percent.
But now, each element of this “success sequence” is eroding in our country. Many Americans lack the education needed for the better jobs of the 21st century. Many either can’t find a good job, or have quite frankly stopped looking for one, given up. Marriage rates are on a steep decline. And a higher proportion of children are raised in single parent homes in America than in the vast majority of developed nations.
The economic price of this erosion in the success sequence is staggering. The unemployment rate is almost twice as high for those with only high school diplomas as it is for those with bachelor’s degrees, and almost three times as high for high school dropouts. Over 20 percent of children raised without both parents live in poverty long-term, compared with just 2 percent of those raised in intact families. And only around 40 percent of children growing up in poor single parent homes will ever make it to the middle class or beyond.
Recently, U.S.universities have witnessed a rise in rhetorical attacks on students of "privilege" who challenge liberal orthodoxy on campus. Rubio, for his part, said he considered himself privileged "b]ecause I was raised by two parents who were married to each other" -- even if they were immigrants working in low-paying jobs.
Seeking to help more poor Americans take part in the "success sequence," Rubio outlined policies that he said could help raise the status of legal marriage, and increase access to better education through tuition subsidies for private schools and the expansion of charter schools. He also proposed solutions designed to help single parents with job training and flexible work hours to care for their children. Echoing th views of Sen.Paul Ryan, Rubio called for a greater for the states, rather than the federal government in administering anti-poverty programs.
One reform I proposed this year was a wage enhancement credit that would bolster a low-wage earner’s paycheck, thus encouraging work over dependence. We know that a working father is much more likely to support his children financially, which also makes him likelier to be an active and positive influence in their lives.
In the wake of Mitt Romney's failure to win the White House in 2012, the GOP leadership has been under pressure to back off from its defense of traditional marriage. Rubio showed no such inclination.
Thousands of years of human history have shown that the ideal setting for children to grow up is with a mother and a father committed to one another, living together, and sharing the responsibility of raising their children. And since traditional marriage has such an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful adults, states in our country have long elevated this institution and set it apart in our laws.
That is the definition of marriage that I personally support – not because I seek to discriminate against people who love someone of the same sex, but because I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship that has proven to be of great benefit to our society, our nation and our people, and therefore deserves to be elevated in our laws.
Rubio condemend activists judges that have overturned state laws banning same-sex marriage, and called for people on both sides of the marriage divide to show respect for competing views. But he also noted the attack on Brendan Eich -- the co-founder of Mozilla who stepped down after critics targeted his donation to the Proposition 8 ballot effort in California == and predicted he would receive similar treatment:
I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay.
On abortion, Rubio affirmed his well-established commitment to the right to life for unborn children.
Let's see whether his "success sequence" framework catches on with the GOP, and with voters looking for fresh solutions and candidates in the 2016 election year. During the 2012 Republican national convention, party leaders spent too much time jeering at President Obama's suggestion that the government was responsible for entrepreneurs' success stories ("You didn't build that"). In the middle of a crushing economic crisis, families needed to hear something that inspired them and showed the GOP was ready to help them reinvent their career goals and guide their children in a chaotic world.