In the January 26th 2015 issue of National Review, Roman Genn parabolically portrayed pajama-clad men on a living room couch equipped with the tools of their enterprise: video game controllers, tortilla chips, and bunny slippers. Juxtaposed to these figures was the infamous photograph “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” (1932), poignantly highlighting the disparity between “the idle man” and his supposed economic opportunity.
Genn’s illustration reflects the problem Marco Rubio presents in his second book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. Drawing from policy work of the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and other think-tanks, Rubio reiterates the problem of opportunity inequality over the income inequality espoused by his progressive counterparts. For Rubio “the difficult truth” embedded within current economic policy “is that America is still the land of opportunity for most, but it is not the land of opportunity for all.”
Rather than offering an overwhelming amount of criticism of President Obama’s policies or the policies of the entrenched establishment of his own party (though he does offer a sufficient amount of it), Rubio instead focuses on an action plan based on three principles for restoring the possibility of an individual achieving the American Dream: “equal opportunity, economic security and family.”
Born in Miami, elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2006, and subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, pundits and politicians alike still await Rubio’s official presidential run. Perhaps disappointing to some readers, the book offers little insight as to his future political aspirations, but instead concentrates on a conservative economic plan to reinvigorate the idea of achieving the American Dream.
Consequently this is the strength of Rubio’s book. Its structure is comprised of seven chapters that focus on broader issues of market-based economic policies, investment in an affordable college education, and economic prosperity through family stability, to name only a few. Though readers should not expect the abstract bloviating found in other political pedantry. Instead, the book puts forth a detailed plan for future conservative policies that does not shy away from its facts and figures. To keep it grounded, Rubio incorporates case studies and individual citizens’ experiences to highlight the specific causes of and solutions to a flaccid economy.
Rather than engaging in the traditional rhetorical dance many politicians undertake, Rubio’s book sets forth a plan in the spirit of Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey’s “Contract with America,” the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership,” or even Ronald Reagan’s 1976-79 radio addresses and columns. Its style undertakes complex economic growth policies set forth by prominent think-tanks and explains them clearly and succinctly for a general American audience sacrificing neither scope nor detail.
At times its line of argumentation relies too heavily on anecdotal examples and several points in the book are wanting of clarification, though it makes a point to return frequently to its fact-based problems and proposed solutions. In the second chapter, for instance, Rubio proposes private-public partnerships with national research laboratories to help create jobs. Unfortunately he neglects to include a detailed explanation of how this plan is specifically different from the failed taxpayer subsidized partnerships initiated by the current administration. This oversight stands out in the book since it is an exception, and not the norm of its proposals.
American Dreams does not attempt to redefine conservatism, but instead to restore its principles. Citing Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, Rubio stresses that earning success achieves happiness. The book establishes a plan to guarantee the opportunity for the middle and lower classes to achieve that success. It should serve as a reminder for presidential hopefuls, regardless of political affiliation, that reactionary campaigning is no substitute for substantial foresight. Nowhere in the book does Rubio defend his ideology as “compassionate conservatism,” and one gets a sense from reading the book that for Rubio, the term is a grammatical tautology.
Readers of American Dreams will quickly observe a bold conservative plan with a realistic trajectory. Other presidential candidates would do well to note his refreshing plan over political naysaying. Recently on Bret Baier’s Special Report, columnist Charles Krauthammer called Rubio the “underestimated dark horse candidate who threads his way, young, energetic.” American Dreams exhibits just how the potential candidate plans to continue “threading his way.”
Written by Eric Bledsoe. Book review written for the Conservative Book Club.