- - Tuesday, November 24, 2015



By Marco Rubio

Sentinel, $17, 224 pages

Political polls, although increasingly iffy and unreliable, have become a growth industry, with the national media, caught up in a relentless wave of cutbacks and downsizing, routinely using them as primary sources for stories — a practice no editor would have countenanced not too many years ago.

This political year, the hot poll-driven story is the presidential horse race. Donald Trump is out in front, Ben Carson is still running second, and pre-race favorites like Jeb Bush (Jeb!) are running back in the pack, with Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio moving up on the outside.

How accurately those polls reflect reality is open to question. But there is no denying that Mr. Rubio is an attractive candidate — young, vigorous, eager to make his party once again the party of ideas, and doing so by focusing on three basic conservative principles essential to realizing the American Dream: “equal opportunity, economic security, and family.”

The seven chapters of this book illustrate the nature of the problems we face through real-life anecdotes and general discussion of what can be done, often drawing on the work of the best conservative think tanks and a new generation of conservative thinkers, looking to break through.

Making education affordable is an immediate and urgent challenge. As matters stand, middle-income families, faced with tuition bills that can equal a year’s salary, are being priced out of the university market. And the only apparent solution seems to be to go deeply into debt — a burden that many students may carry well into middle age.

Mr. Rubio brings personal experience to bear here, essentially putting himself through college. After graduation from law school, student loans were his single biggest expense. When he became a senator, he still owed $100,000. “It wasn’t until the publication of my first book, ‘American Son,’ that I was able to repay my loans.”

This is an issue he feels strongly about, suggesting a variety of solutions and new approaches, not just in financing but also in reordering the goals, priorities and methods of higher education, and in the process loosening the stranglehold of the educationist establishment. “American higher education today is an entrenched monopoly protected by government policy,” he writes. “Think Ma Bell before the breakup.”

Of the problems he addresses in this book, he writes, “the preservation of the American family is by far the most difficult,” especially among less-educated, poorer Americans who are caught up in “an epidemic of broken marriages and single-parent families,” leading inevitably to what could become a permanent underclass. Meanwhile, a vast interlocking system of social welfare programs rewards bad behavior in a way that encourages illegitimacy and discourages marriage, along with the consequent inculcation of family values.

Mr. Rubio’s foreign policy views are cast primarily as a rejection of the failed Obama-Clinton approaches that have diminished our international standing, along with broad proposals aimed at restoring American hegemony. Mr. Rubio has written a more detailed exposition of his foreign policy positions for a recent issue of Foreign Affairs. But interestingly, both in this book and in his article, he doesn’t mention Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger, the architects of the geopolitical structure that for four decades guaranteed our global pre-eminence.

The Republican playbook may be outdated, but the past has lessons. In that same Foreign Affairs issue, there’s an article by Niall Ferguson titled “The Meaning of Kissinger,” in which he discusses the reasons why world leaders continue to seek his counsel.

“In this respect” writes Mr. Ferguson, “Barack Obama is unusual. He is the first U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower not to seek Kissinger’s advice.” A good reason for Mr. Rubio to schedule an appointment soon.

Nevertheless, this is a campaign book, written in strong, active prose, introducing Marco Rubio to the widest number of potential voters, especially those who have absolute faith in the old American verities but increasingly despair at the dimming of the American dream.

In all, whether or not the poll-driven stories hold, it’s just possible to imagine the contrast provided by a young, energetic and articulate conservative Republican debating a tired Democrat, defending shopworn old ideas and failed policies.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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