The right-wing Golden Boy

It’s not exactly a secret that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will be the top choice on the Republican presidential nominee’s short-list for VP. If the party comes up short in 2012, he’ll also be a leading presidential candidate in 2016. And why not? He’s a handsome Cuban-American who can appeal to Latino voters, who just happens to be popular in the nation’s most important swing state.

Indeed, conservative adulation for Rubio is arguably becoming even more intense, despite the fact that he’s only been in office for seven months, and hasn’t actually done anything. The senator is taking steps to solidify support from the party establishment, and GOP leaders are tripping over themselves to sing his praises.

But before Rubio starts printing up “Future President” business cards, it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how strikingly right-wing he is. Consider what he told Republicans at the Reagan Presidential Library this week, when discussing bedrock American programs like Medicare and Social Security:

“These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in 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 your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues.

“But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.”

As far as the Republican Party’s Golden Boy is concerned, Social Security and Medicare weakened the fabric of our society.

In case this isn’t obvious, Rubio’s sentiment is not even close to the American mainstream. It’s not that we haven’t heard observations like these before — far-right politicians make the argument with some regularity — it’s that those who are likely to seek national office usually don’t go quite this far in trashing some of the pillars of modern American life.

Rubio, incidentally, also happens to be terribly wrong. As Igor Volsky explained, “Americans may have certainly taken care of each other in the absence of formalized access to affordable health care, but that support did little to drastically ameliorate the fears and anxieties of seniors.” Before Medicare and Social Security, millions of seniors, once they left the workforce, struggled badly to afford care and avoid poverty.

Rubio envisions a society in which Americans simply chose, voluntarily and on their own, to provide for seniors who lacked the resources to protect themselves. What the right-wing senator may not realize is that this didn’t happen — Social Security and Medicare were created because the government saw a crisis that needed a solution. Democrats didn’t create these programs just for the sake of doing so; they created them because millions were struggling and needed a stronger safety net.

And those programs, far from “weakening us as a people,” lifted society up. Democrats were right and Social Security and Medicare became some of the most popular and successful initiatives the nation has ever created.

I realize the excitement level in GOP circles about Rubio’s future is off the charts, but we’re talking about a very conservative politician who, by all appearances, isn’t terribly bright. Republicans really ought to put the coronation on hold.