Marco Rubio at CPAC 2014: The illegitimacy of tyranny

Senator Marco Rubio’s address to CPAC 2014 emphasized foreign policy, in light of the current drama in Ukraine.  Rubio put the Russian action in Crimea in context alongside other grim events on the international stage, including China’s increasingly aggressive territorial claims in Asia; North Korea’s dogged efforts to create nuclear ICBMs that could reach the United States; the Venezuelan socialist dictatorship slaughtering citizens in the streets; Iran’s nuclear ambitions; and the spread of al-Qaeda into multiple cells operating across a growing sector of the globe – something President Obama talks about primarily as a means of justifying his campaign assertions of defeating “core” al-Qaeda.

Rubio asked if Americans wanted their children to inherit a world where all of these nightmare scenarios came true, alongside Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reconstitute the old Soviet empire.  “Without American engagement, such a world is a real possibility,” he warned.

And if America doesn’t get the job done, nobody else will.  “There is only one nation on Earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people of the world, and it is ours.  The United Nations cannot do this.  In fact, they cannot do anything,” he concluded with a rueful chuckle.  His implication that American exceptionalism might, in many minds, have been displaced by an unwarranted reverence for the United Nations is interesting.  Attempts to subcontract American leadership to any other nation or international body have thus far produced deeply unsatisfying results.

Senator Rubio excoriated Obama foreign policy for accepting the depredations of brutal authoritarian states as a normal part of doing geo-political business.  On the contrary, Rubio strongly asserted that totalitarianism makes a government fundamentally illegitimate, a term he used for both the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes.  “All the problems of the world, all the conflicts of the world, are being created by totalitarian regimes,” he said.

He measured Obama’s approach against President Reagan’s resolute identification of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” a moral judgment Reagan never relinquished.  He called for similar clarity when dealing with today’s assortment of evil empires.  “There is nothing normal or acceptable about a government that does not allow you to worship as you please,” charged Rubio, “a government that forces women to have abortions; that slaughters people in the streets; that jails political opponents; or that uses terrorism as a tool of statecraft.  We should never accept any of those things as a legitimate form of government.”

Rubio called for “American foreign policy deeply rooted in our values and our moral principles,” particularly our recognition of inalienable rights, such as the freedom to speak and worship, which are merely recognized by a legitimate state, not granted by politicians as gifts to their favorite constituents.  In Rubio’s estimation, illegitimate rulers are not difficult to spot; they give themselves away by violating the God-given rights of their subjects.

Well aware of the tendency for domestic concerns to crowd out foreign policy, at least until the shooting starts, Rubio warned that “the foreign policy issues of our time have deep economic ramifications… If you think high taxes and regulations are bad for our economy, so is global instability and the spread of totalitarianism.”

It’s easy to follow his advice and see how the whimsical power of tyranny produces uncertainty that impedes free commerce and destroys wealth.  Sadly, it’s not necessary to look beyond America’s borders to observe this dread process in action, not any more.  The constant stream of arbitrary changes to the Affordable Care Act is making domestic markets as jittery as the fear of any tinpot strongman feeling Venezuela-style urges to put political officers at every cash register.

As for the U.S. economy, Rubio spoke of both challenges and opportunities, lamenting that President Obama’s leadership has caused investors to bottle up $4 trillion in cash they are uneasy about spending.  “That’s bigger than economy of Germany,” Rubio marveled, “but they won???t invest it due to the uncertainty created by this government.”

He also criticized President Obama for creating disunity within the American public, pitting citizens against each other in bitter political struggles.  “That has never been who we are, and it isn???t who we are right now,” the Senator insisted.

Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to reach this moment by growing complacent, believing – prior to the ascension of President Obama – that no government policies could ever be damaging enough to derail the American gravy train.  We should all know better by now.  “Don???t take for granted what we have in this country,” Senator Rubio advised.  “What we have in America is the exception, not the rule throughout history.  What makes us truly different is that anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything.”

He concluded by telling a poignant story about his cancer-stricken father insisting on dressing up and attending his primary victory party.  Over time, Rubio came to understand that his father made that noble effort, not just from a father’s pride at his son’s accomplishments, but because the elder Rubio felt the pride and joy of having worked hard to create a better life for the next generation.  Seventy years of toil had given the father strength to open the door of opportunity for his son… a strength no disease could ever erase.  No wonder Marco Rubio looks at a future of limitless debt and crushing obligation, a world made smaller because today’s politicians could not resist draining it dry, and sees a horrible perversion of his father’s loving labors.  Compulsion and tyranny inevitably produce a diminished future.  Perhaps that will come to be understood as the final standard of illegitimacy for any government, no matter what mechanism it uses to secure power.