Steve Benen wrote an interesting article this morning, Marco Rubio’s Awkward Fight for the Future. He noted that Rubio has been going around talking about how Hillary Clinton’s policies are “20th century relics” in a 21st century world. Benen thinks that this is a reasonable pitch, but noted that it doesn’t really fly coming from a guy who “opposes marriage equality” and “doesn’t believe in climate science,” and who defends “an ineffective trade embargo that was created in 1960 and failed to produce any meaningful results over the course of 54 years.” Benen leaves the list at that, but we could go on and on. In particular, Rubio believes in supply side economics which is not only “so 1980s,” but which has been absolutely refuted.
But we should not be surprised that Rubio is taking this approach. And it is hardly a unique approach. The most defining element of conservatism since at least 1980 — but to a large extent much further back — is that proponents of it see themselves as “edgy.” If you ask them, they are the ones who are revolutionizing politics; the liberals are just falling back on the same old ideas. It’s funny because they have things exactly reversed. Liberals have been a wellspring of new ideas over the last forty years. Conservatives, on the other hand, have been involved in a long argument to push policy back to 1890 — or even 1860, if you know what I mean.
Paul Krugman has written a lot about how conservative economists simply stopped paying attention to what Keynesians economists were doing from the 1970s onward. As a result, they make claims that are not only wrong — they are anachronistic. The same thing seems to have gone on in politics. I’m amazed to hear what conservatives claim liberal policies to be. You would think that Bill Clinton had never been president. Now I’m not a fan of neoliberal policies at all. But the fact remains that the Democratic Party is dedicated to those kinds of policies. And they get no credit for it from the conservatives. In fact, as I’ve argued elsewhere, all the neoliberal policies do is push the conservatives further to the right.
In Marco Rubio’s mind, the Cuban embargo is a 21st century idea. The denial of marriage rights to same sex couples is a 21st century idea. The denial of climate change and even evolution is a 21st century idea. The reason is that anything that liberals believe in must be old thinking. Because liberals are the stodgy ones and conservatives are the “revolutionaries.” (That’s largely true. Republicans act like a revolutionary party and that is an extremely dangerous thing.)
What’s most important here is that Rubio is not unusual in the least. Mitt Romney fancies himself the bringer of light. It has been a long time since conservatives were standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!” They claim to be rallying the troops yelling, “Follow me to the future!” What they are actually doing is calling for the future to be the past. It may not be wrong to say that Clinton represents 20th century ideas. But that’s a hell of a lot better than the 19th century ideas that Rubio and the rest of the Republican Party represent.