That Brainy Rubio and His Neeson Doctrine

These things are relative, of course, but as the 2016 Republican presidential field takes shape, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is the early favorite as the thinking person’s conservative: open to some changes in ideological orthodoxy, if not many, and having already once proven he’s not just a ethically marginal state pol who caught a Tea Party wave, when he became the Senate leader in promoting comprehensive immigration reform.

There has not been a day since Rubio’s bill crashed and burned in the House that he hasn’t explicitly or implicitly apologized for that heresy, and no one would be surprised if it were announced he has acquired a tattoo that reads “Secure the Borders First!” he can show off in small meetings. But still, he gets credit for staying true to yesterday’s Republican wisdom on immigration, at least until it hurt him politically, instead of pursuing today’s dubious nativism…but wait a minute, isn’t he the Candidate of the Future, who’s main criticism of Obama and Clinton is that they are mired in the past? True, the “future” seems to be defined in Rubio-land as the same old economic policies Republicans have been peddling since at least 1981, and by the reproductive rights policies that prevailed in most states prior to 1973, and by the attitude towards a certain Caribbean nation that was established in 1961. Other than that….

But the reputation for smarts he earned mostly through his willingness to associate with Reformicons probably should not survive his remarks on Saturday at the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville. Here was the big cerebral line from the brainy candidate, per Bloomberg Politics‘ Sahil Kapur:

“On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you,’” the Florida senator said in Greenville.

The line—referring to Neeson’s character, a CIA operative threatening a human trafficker who had kidnapped his daughter—earned the top-tier candidate thunderous applause.

Of course it did. The kind of people who attend “freedom summits” by and large would prefer to be at war with three or four new countries by breakfast tomorrow, and think we’d have won in Iraq (or for that matter, in Vietnam) if we hadn’t “cut and run.”

If, however, “brains” in politics has any value at all, it should be aimed at informing these kind of people that the world is not a movie or a video game and we can’t just go kill anybody who annoys us and most of all, that “strength” is not defined as suspending all impulse control and behaving like a poorly socialized adolescent boy.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Marco Rubio is about as smart as he is future-oriented.

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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.