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Rubio CPAC speech offers a reformed conservatism for the 21st century

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There were lots of old, tired dogs that thankfully didn’t bark during Marco Rubio’s CPAC speech: President Obama, Obamacare, and the stimulus for starters. Made it a lot more intellectually rich. Instead of a macro, Washington-centric critique, Rubio went micro. He looked at 2013 America from the perspective of middle-income families under real pressure from a stagnant economy, globalization, technological unemployment, and the rising cost of education and healthcare. (Get ready to hear this phrase a lot from Rubio going forward: “Cost of living.”)

Oh, and that there’s often no meaningful help on the way from a cronyism-plagued political system. (He’s looking at you Wall Street.) The speech also had a Burkean flavor highlighting the obligations Americans owe each other, and how they fulfill them together through civil society rather than just through “Life of Julia” government programs. Less a speech born from readings of Atlas Shrugged and Coolidge than one seemingly informed by books such as Coming Apart, Race Against the Machine, and What to Expect When No One’s Expecting – not to mention a welcome alertness to today’s economic reality rather than that of the 1980s and 1990s.

Rubio isn’t yet offering a policy agenda worthy of his message, but first things first. Rubio seems to recognize and understand some of America’s biggest problems and that dealing with them requires timeless conservative principles applied in modern and timely ways.

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