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Rubio Speaks at NatCon 2022
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivered a speech at the third annual National Conservatism Conference in Miami, FL on September 12. Read a lightly edited transcript of the speech, titled “The Loss of Common Sense,” below.
I remember a time when I had to beg people to care about what I did and what I was involved with. Nobody cared about politics. They cared for the couple months leading up to the election. But that’s about it. The rest of the time it was “boring.”
Now everything is political, unfortunately. One consequence of that is that all of the places where people used to be able to gather and get to know one another beyond politics have been wiped out. And that’s a big deal. It goes to the core of what it means to be a nation.
You talk about national conservatism. It begins by defining: What does the nation mean? Is it just a geographic outline, or some random lines that were drawn or what have you?…It’s certainly an element of it. And that’s why I think things like border security are so critical. If you basically do not care about borders, you basically don’t care about who comes in. And you basically mean you really don’t care about this whole concept of a nation.
But a nation, at its core, is basically a group of people, who may be very different from one another and have different ideas and different principles and different values and different roles and [may come] from different places, who agree to live together under a common set of rules. If you were to define…a nation, it means that…. And that’s an important concept that we’ve forgotten.
Why have we forgotten that? What has brought us to this point? I imagine…a lot of speakers are leading you up to this. But I wanted to give you my view of it.
I’m not a sociologist. I’m not a demographer. But I know a little bit about it, at least at a manager level, to understand what’s happening in American politics today and why everything’s become so hyper-political. And I think you have to go back all the way to the end of the Cold War era.
I grew up in the 80s. Looking around, I don’t want to prejudge anyone, but I would say about half of you remember the 80s, and the other half have seen something about it on one of those CNN specials. I thought the 80s were better than the 70s simply because we didn’t have to endure disco music…. But we had our own problems.
But going back to the point, I grew up in the 80s, and the whole world was defined by this battle between the Soviet Union and the United States, ideologically, potentially militarily, etc. And suddenly, overnight, if you recall how that felt like, I was in my freshman year of college, the entire world changed…. It was like, “communism has been defeated.”
And there was this notion that developed that, from that point forward, history was over, and everyone was going to be a liberal, free enterprise economy and democracy, that that was now going to become the new world order. And that became sort of a governing consensus across the political spectrum, that that’s the way things were always going to be.
I remember one of the lines that they used to say all the time was, “No two countries with a McDonalds have ever gone to war with each other.” Well, we know that’s no longer true. There’s McDonalds in Ukraine, and there was McDonalds in Russia….
[Those who subscribed to that] simplistic notion forgot two things. The first and most important thing is human nature…. Everything has changed. The way people dress, where they eat, the way they speak, the way they live their daily lives, so much has changed. But the one thing that’s as true today as it was 5,500 years ago is human nature.
Human nature will never change. And part of human nature is the desire to belong, the desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s the reason why we start clubs, it’s the reason why we root for teams. We are constantly, as human beings, as biological creatures, looking for connection to others. Nationhood is one of the most important connections one can have with other people.
And the reason why these people forgot it is they suddenly began to think, and this became a bipartisan view of the world: “From now on, we are really all [just] citizens of the world. We’re going to all live in the same economy. National rules are not going to be nearly as important as our ability to interact with people from halfway around the world. And we’re all going to be united by common economic interests and common economic features.”
There really was this belief that it was the end of history, that 5,500 years of human history had been wiped out, that everything was going to be new moving forward. It was a terrible mistake.
No one told the Chinese, who come from an ancient culture that takes tremendous pride in over a thousand years of being one of the world’s most powerful countries, about this new world order. They took advantage of it. All of its benefits they fully assumed, but of course, none of its responsibilities.
Eventually, it would be logical that Vladimir Putin and Russia and the Russian Federation would seek to recapture what they believed to be their national interest, especially as it conflicted with ours and that of the rest of the world. Human nature didn’t end at the end of the Cold War.
The other thing that didn’t end is the importance of national interests, that just because something is good for the rest of the world or something is good in the laboratory of free enterprise, it didn’t always translate into something that was in the national interest. It is, in fact, I believe, one of the biggest challenges facing conservatism as we define it in American politics today.
I hate socialism. I despise it. It is nothing but a source of misery and suffering and mass exile and emigration, and [it’s] destructive to the human spirit. But I also understand that free enterprise works because it always allocates resources to its most efficient use. Money in free enterprise is always going to go to its most efficient use.
One of the big challenges facing conservatives today is what happens when the market outcome, the most efficient outcome, is not aligned with your national interest. When I say that, sometimes people start to squirm and get a little uncomfortable. Certainly the Wall Street Journal editorial board does. In their view, everything can be solved by economics.
It’s just not true. We are more than just consumers. We are more than just economic creatures. What happens when the most efficient market outcome does not align with your national interest? I’ll give you an example. It’s cheaper to [have] 83% of the active ingredients in our basic pharmaceuticals made in China, a lot more efficient. Is that in our national interest? Is it in our national interest to depend on China for an overwhelming majority of the world’s rare earth minerals?
We’ve already made this decision before, whether we want to pretend we do or not. Why don’t we build our F-35s in Indonesia or Vietnam? Why don’t we build ships there, for that matter? Because someone decided it would be cheaper to do it in one of these other countries but we have to be able to make our own F-35s, we have to be able to make our own aircraft carriers. We’ve already made that decision in other realms. But…we forgot that it’s in our nation’s national interest to care about where our food is produced, it’s in our nation’s national interest to have an industrial capacity….
The second thing [the post-Cold War consensus overlooked] is: Is it possible to even be a strong country without having strong families and strong communities? The answer is overwhelmingly no. There’s no evidence in 5,500 years of human history that any culture, society, or nation can be strong if it’s not both an industrial power [and a power with] strong families and strong communities.
So if you accept that is true, which I think there is zero evidence for the fact that it’s possible to be strong without strong families and strong communities, then you have to ask yourself the second question: Is it possible to have strong families and strong communities without having dignified jobs? And the answer, I think, is overwhelmingly no. And we’re seeing that play out today. It is corrosive to the human spirit when you don’t have dignified work. And I think history proves that over and over again….
Probably one of the fundamental differences between socialists and leftists and those of us on the right is their belief that it doesn’t really matter where the money comes from, whether it’s a government stimulus check or a government welfare program or a job. The important thing is you just got 100 bucks, and with that, you can buy things.
But we know better, because human history tells us that if that hundred dollars is the product of your work or your labor or something you put into it, it means something to the person. It has an element of the glue that holds communities together. It’s the kind of thing that makes it possible to start a family and be a part of a community. But when you take it away, it becomes corrosive and destructive.
And so when we made these economic decisions on the basis of what the most efficient allocation of capital is, what those people forgot is: What happens if one of the byproducts of that decision leaves millions and millions of people unable to acquire dignified work? And that was one of the fundamental things that we’ve seen play out in the last 25 years. It’s one of the best ways to explain some of the anger, frustration, and alienation that exists in American politics and society today.
We have millions and millions of people who saw their grandfathers work at a company, retire with dignity with a pension, and be able to leave their kids better off than themselves, who perhaps saw their parents do the same. But now they’re being told: “Your job is gone. But don’t worry. You can learn how to code and have a much better paying job.” That’s what the economic theory tells us. That’s not how things work out in the real world.
So this disconnected people. You lost industrial capacity, which you cannot be a great power without. You lost the dignity of work, which became corrosive to society and the family. And the result was our national interest was undermined. And so one of the great realignments that’s happened in American politics today is the disconnect between the left and right, which is not as simple as it used to be.
You are in Miami-Dade County. This is a majority Democratic county. It has been forever. And so it is impossible to grow up here like I did and not know people on the left…. And for years, the dividing line, at least on economics, between left and right was, one group wanted higher taxes, one wanted less. One wanted more government regulation, one wanted less. That was the dividing line, and that still remains the divide.
But today it’s so much deeper than that…. The divide is no longer between simple ideology. The divide that is now developing is between common sense developed from living in the real world and interacting with real people, and the lunacy that develops when the people who were taught by crazy professors are now 30-something years of age and are running major corporations or are elected to office or are involved in setting public opinion [as] America’s commentators.
And so now when we’re seeing this divide play out over and over again, it’s not simply on economics. It is basically a call to the nation to reject, not just our traditions and our values and the time-tested principles of 240 years of the most successful republic in human history, but to reject the lessons, the fundamental truths, of what works and what doesn’t from 5,500 years of human history.
And look, it is tempting to every generation to believe that they have figured it out, that everyone before you had it wrong, everyone before you was ridiculous, but you somehow are right. That somehow, after 35 or 40 years of life, you have discovered some hidden truths about humanity that everyone else in 5,500 years had not figured out.
And so today we are subjected to things like, there are such things as pregnant men. As of almost 10:00 today, as far as I know, every single human being that has ever been born was born of a biological woman. And yet we have, not just commentators, not just professors, we have the Centers for Disease Control, we have the most prominent public health agency in America, who insists on using the term “pregnant people.” Well, I can assure you that that’s never happened. It’s never happened.
But it’s more than just annoying, because what it amounts to is not just semantics. The problem is it’s not just isolated. It moves from there to all kinds of other realms, like the idea, for example, that children don’t really have to be raised by parents and families. We can raise them as a society. We can raise them in schools, and with the right programming on television, and with the right celebrity messaging on social media, we can raise productive, responsible human beings. We’re learning the hard way that that’s not true.
On issue after issue, it’s more than just annoying, it’s having real impacts. And so this realignment that’s happening in American politics is not ideological. It is largely the divide between people who work for a living, who live in the real world, who have to raise their children, and people who live in a fantasy world, and people who have the affluence and buffer necessary to worry about things that do not really matter and to focus on things that aren’t true.
It’s a divide between laptop liberals and frankly Marxist misfits, who’ve made enough money to be able to indulge in these fantasies about how great it’s going to be when all of us are driving electric cars and our roofs are covered with solar panels, and people who had to get up this morning and drive to work and will have to do so for the next 25 years in a car powered by fossil fuels, like the 98% of Americans went out to do this morning.
It’s the difference, during the pandemic, between the people that had the luxury of working from home—and many still are, they kind of figured, “I can do what I do from my bedroom in my underwear, all I need is a WiFi connection and a laptop”—and the people who worked a job where you couldn’t do it remotely. You can’t drive a truck from home. You can’t work in retail from home. You can’t put out a fire…from home. You can’t be a police officer from home.
And so that divide is continuing to develop. The problem is the power imbalance. It is unfortunate, but it is true, that a small, out-of-touch elite is now in charge of every major institution in American society. And what they’re engaged in—which I’m convinced most of them don’t even realize, they’re making a mockery of this—is Marxism….
“Come on, that’s just to scare people.” Well, let me tell you something. Marxism is a lot more than just socialism. Socialism is an economic model. Marxism is a power model.
Socialism is government engagement in our economy. It is possible—though, I believe, often misrepresented or not entirely successful—to say, “Okay, we’re to have elections, and we’re going to choose between a very socialist person and a semi-socialist person.” Because I think, in many parts of the world, what we would view as their economic model would be characterized as socialism. But what they really are are high-tax places with big government spending programs, big government assistance, and the like.
But socialism is an economic model. Marxism is a power structure. And what Marxism basically is about is the following: We need to control people. The people need to be controlled, and they need to be controlled by a handful of people that are smarter, or better, or are more moral in some ways. Because if you don’t control people they’ll do things like be unequal to each other. They’ll hoard wealth, they’ll discriminate against one another, they won’t allocate resources in the proper way. And so we have to have control.
And not just control of the economy, we have to have control over everything. So we have to have schools that are basically teaching this from a very young age. Education is important, but indoctrination is more important. It is important for us to get in front of people when they’re very young and begin to shape and mold their lives. And we cannot allow their parents to interfere in that. In fact, we have to teach them that: “Your parents don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re a product of an old era. Trust us, your parents don’t know.”
The schools won’t be enough. We have to get the whole society to support us in this endeavor. So we need to make sure that the entertainers, the cultural influencers, and everybody else also reinforce those messages: “Your parents don’t know what they’re talking about, and all these old-fashioned things are, not just not true, they’re actually evil. They’re bad for you guys. Don’t listen to them.” You have to control media and the messaging.
Marxism has never tolerated [counter-messaging]. It’s “subversive.” In some places they call it “counter-revolutionary.” In America, they call it hateful and dangerous and extremism. And I guess now “neo-fascism.” But basically, we cannot tolerate this and cannot tolerate any opposing points of view. Once you say that they’re destructive, you have the power to silence them, and you can justify it in that way.
They have to control government, there’s no doubt about it, which means that, yes, we’re for elections as long as we win. If we lose, we lost because we suppressed the vote, because the laws of some state didn’t allow people to vote, and if they had voted, the outcome would have been different. And that’s what we’re living through right now.
And some people say, “Oh, you’re just paranoid because you’ve been raised your whole life around people that lost their country to Marxism.” I wouldn’t call it paranoid. I’d call it, I’ve seen this movie before. It’s just like these horror movies, right? You know: “Don’t go in that closet, no one survives opening the door to that closet. He’s either in the closet or right behind you when you open the closet door.” I’ve seen the movie before. And when I say I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it through the eyes of other people.
We’re in Miami-Dade County. There’s a large number, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, who live in this community, who lost their country to Marxism. In Nicaragua, in Cuba, in Venezuela. And in every one of these cases, the people who took over the country and destroyed it never emerged early on and said, “I am a Marxist, join our Marxist revolution.” In Cuba, Fidel Castro said, “I don’t want any power, I just want to bring Cuba back, and then we’re going to turn it over and elect new people”….
In my view, that’s what’s happening today. You have two things happening at the same time. You have this movement to take power over America…that is clearly inspired by Marxism, whether they call it that or not. And at the same time, you have this massive disconnect between the people in power and the people they are governing.
To me, the most stunning thing in American politics today is not the differences of opinion on issues. It is the disconnect between what people on Capitol Hill—this bubble surrounded by this impenetrable force field in which logic and common sense cannot penetrate—the people who live there, and…real people, who never talk to me about the things that we spend the majority of our time fighting over….
Out there, in my interactions with people, I hear people complain about a lot of things, some of which have nothing to do with government, some of which do. What I never hear people say is, “Dammit, you guys gotta get up there right now and make sure you pass a bill that hires 87,000 IRS agents and gives us a tax credit so we can finally own an electric car.” I just don’t think that there is a mass uprising in America for these things. But that is generally what the Democratic Party have spent the bulk of their remaining political capital on.
In about a few days, we’re having a vote on enshrining same sex marriage in the laws of this country. And look, people have different views on that issue. But…there’s not a single state in the country, not one, trying to pass a law to challenge it. There’s not a single case working its way in the courts, not one. And yet that’s one of the last things, other than keeping the government funded, that the Senate leadership of the Democrats are going to prioritize in the vote.
And the list goes on. Before that, last year, it was a voting rights bill, because somehow there was these laws that Joe Biden says were the equivalent of Jim Crow…. If you weren’t for the bill they wanted, that basically put the federal government in charge of elections in places like…Georgia and Florida, then you were in favor of segregationism. And then we had a primary in Georgia with this record turnout of voters that have come out…. They [also] spent months trying to pass a $4 trillion Build Back Better, which basically codified socialism into our laws.
So you have a disconnect between the priorities of these people and everybody else. And the reason why is very simple. Their agenda is entirely controlled by the interests and the priorities of laptop liberals and Marxist misfits. The laptop liberals are the people providing the staffers, the activist class, the commentator class, the policy class. And they think these people reflect America.
Where you really see that play out is the claim, “I speak on behalf of this disadvantaged group of Americans.” There’s a disconnect between the people they claim to speak on behalf of and the leaders of these activist groups. You have that disconnect going on, and it’s massive, and it plays out every single day, not just on these solutions they arrive at, but on the priorities.
And then you have the overwhelming majority of Americans who work for a living, who just want to live normal lives, who want to be able to have influence over what their kids are taught in school and how they raise their families. And they look towards politics, and they say that it’s completely abandoned [them], including many of the Democratic Party. Many of them maybe voted for Democrats their entire lives for a lot of different reasons.
I hear it all the time from some people, and they’ll tell you, “I used to be a Democrat because the Democrat [Party] is the party of working people, and the Republicans are the party of millionaires.” And now I think they realize the Democratic Party is not the party of the working people. The Democratic Party today is the party of affluent elites that live on the Upper West Side, up in West Beverly Hills, and who have the luxury of worrying about things that don’t matter to people in daily life. So that’s a huge disconnect in American politics.
And I’m a Republican. Does that mean that we automatically benefit from it? Not necessarily. Maybe in one election, because you’re not them, but not being them is not enough. Which is really at the core of what this group tries to do, and what I hope to do more of in the Senate, and that’s: How do we create a new governing consensus in America that reflects the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people, an overwhelming majority of people that do not define themselves by the color of their skin, whose goal in life is not to get billions of dollars, who don’t spend all day checking their cell phone to see how Wall Street is performing, because their life isn’t going to really change very dramatically whether the stock market is up or down that very day.
The overwhelming majority of people…want out of life things that are very simple and essential and critical and important. They want to basically get married, start a family, own a home in a safe neighborhood, retire with dignity, and leave their children with a chance to be better off than themselves. And in the process, they want to be able to have the time and resources to enjoy some simple and important things, like going to a college football game or fishing, like taking a vacation somewhere once a year. And I speak to you about those basic principles because they define my life.
When people talk to me about the American dream, a lot of times people think the American dream means: How many things do you own? How many houses do you have? How many cars, electric or otherwise, do you own? That has never been the American dream. The American dream is about being able to achieve happiness as you define it. And for millions and millions of people, happiness has nothing to do with the accumulation of wealth. There’s nothing wrong with wealth. There’s nothing wrong with earning and working hard. For some people, that’s part of the dream. But for the overwhelming majority of people, what they really want are the simple things that make life worth living, that make life enjoyable and memorable, and to leave their kids better off than themselves.
And so the goal and the task for those of us who call ourselves national conservatives, who believe in that, is: How do we create a nation whose public policies are geared towards the common good and making that possible for millions and millions and millions of people? That has to be the goal, because if the goal is not to be the other people, if the goal is, “they’re crazy, we’re not, vote for me,” that will win you some elections, [but] it will not win in the future. It will not save this country.
And when I get to that point…[of] saying “save the country,” [people think,] “Do you mean…that America is falling apart?” I would always caveat it by saying, one of the things that’s been true about America for about 150 years now…is that every generation, once they come to leadership, is under this obsessive fear that somehow we’re going to be overtaken, and America’s about to crumble.
And that doesn’t mean that every generation doesn’t have a special task. What we have here [in America] is special, and it’s different. It’s not a throwaway.
A lot of people like to say this is the greatest country in the world, but they never articulate why. I celebrate wealth, people that have worked really hard on this great idea, or come up with something that’s successful. We celebrate that, we don’t condemn it, we don’t demonize it. But that’s not what makes us unique. Every country in the world has rich people. Some would [point to]…the size of our economy and the power of our military. All true. But there have been powerful militaries before, from a relative perspective, perhaps some more powerful than ours….
What makes us unique and special is that never in the history of man has there been a place where so many different people with so many differences of background and belief and lifestyle have been able to share a nation where so many have been able to prosper and achieve happiness. That’s really, truly at the core of what makes us exceptional. And all of the other things, the economy, the military, and the geopolitical influences, all the other things flow from the fact that it’s a special country.
And sometimes I think it’s easy to take that for granted, because when all you’ve ever known is freedom, liberty, prosperity, you think this is the natural order of things. But when you are raised surrounded by people who know what life is like in other places, it’s much harder to take it for granted. And you find yourself today in a county where there are hundreds of thousands of people that know what life is like in other places…. [They see] how special and unique this country truly is.
And in the end, that is actually the glue that’s always held America together. “American” has never been a race or ethnicity. America has never been based on where you were born or your parents were born or what’s your last name or what’s your blood lineage. America has been the home of people who came here from all over the world…because they could not be who they believed they were meant to be, who they wanted to be, in the nation of their birth, in the city of their birth, in the region of their birth, or under the current circumstances of their life. And America was the one place where people, no matter where they started out, were able to go as far as their talent and their work will take them.
That, honestly, is the glue that’s held us together as a nation. It is our primary common identity. And it’s the number one thing that this modern Marxism attacks. It attacks it by telling you the most important thing about you is the color of your skin. It attacks it by saying the most important thing about you is your ethnicity. And that simply is not how people live.
When they ask me, “Are you surprised at the gains the GOP has made among Hispanics?”, the answer is, “I’m not,” because for most Hispanics who wake up in the morning, their primary identity that day will not be “Hispanic.” Their primary identity that day is father and mother, husband and wife, small business owner, worker, volunteer at the PTA or the Little League team [or] at the Rotary Club…[or the] church. That’s their primary identity, and we have to recapture that in order to recapture the notion of nationhood. <