The Future Lies Ahead

Brother Benen today makes a good point about youngish conservative pols who are forever dissing intraparty rivals or attacking Democratic opponents for being so, so “20th Century.” That’s particularly true of Sen. Marco Rubio, who, unfortunately, seems a bit too preoccupied with bringing back the distant parts of the 20th century to be a credible atavar of the New Century:

The likely Republican presidential candidate who has no use for “20th century relics” is the same Republican defending an ineffective trade embargo that was created in 1960 and failed to produce any meaningful results over the course of 54 years.

Rubio’s problem, in other words, is the disconnect between a perfectly nice pitch and the substance needed to back it up.

’I’m all for “21st century ideas,” but it’s a tough sell from a policymaker who opposes marriage equality. Rubio doesn’t believe in climate science. He had a forward-thinking approach to immigration, but then he walked away from it. On social insurance programs, Rubio even wants to roll back the clock on Medicare and Social Security.

Yep. But this critique kind of begs the question of different conceptions of “the future”–so instinctively appealing to Americans–reflecting different notions of the “arc of history.” Constitutional conservatives, for example, view 1776 (or at least their fantasy version of 1776) as a sort of historic omega point away from which America has fallen and must eventually return. When Rubio disses someone as being a relic of the 20th century, he is almost certainly alluding to the widespread belief on the Right that the latter parts of the 20th century–despite the defeat of the Soviet Empire and the near-perfect administration of St. Ronald Reagan–were a cesspool of cultural and economic decline, a time when hippies and those people all too often conspired to thwart Real Americans, just as they do today.

And maybe it’s just the influence of disaster movies and the Cult of the Book of Revelation, but I suspect Americans of every tendency, for all their traditional expectation of progress, share a sort of psychological undertow in which they half-fear the future will be one long lurch towards catastrophe.

Yes, I know this is a counter-intuitive argument to be advanced by someone who calls himself a “progressive” writer, but the plain truth is, all we are certain of about the future is that it does indeed lie ahead.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.