Marco Rubio

What Marco Rubio's Driving Record Tells Us About Social Conservatism

The individual is the building block of society, not the family.

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Has conservatism just been punked? Not intentionally, no. But it might as well have been.

The New York Times caught heck for its story a couple of weeks ago about Marco Rubio's driving habits. Even Jon Stewart, who typically lampoons right-wingers, ripped the newspaper for its coverage—and for good reason. Out of the 17 traffic tickets Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, have racked up during the past two decades, only four of them were his.

Roping in his wife's driving record helped inflate the numbers to make the insignificant story seem at least marginally worth reporting. But it also invited easy parody by conservatives, who noted that, "taken together," Rubio and Pontius Pilate were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—and that, between them, Rubio and Colombia are responsible for most of the world's cocaine production.

Funny stuff—but it drives home a point many conservatives would, in different circumstances, prefer to dispute.

It is an article of sometimes literal faith among social conservatives that the family, rather than the individual, is "the basic unit of society." Republicans said so in their 2008 party platform. In 2012 they called the family the "foundation of our society."

Social-conservative candidates repeatedly stress the point; Rick Santorum wrote an entire book on the subject. Last month, columnist David Brooks even went so far as to argue the "notion that society is made up of individuals" is "false" and "illusory."

All right. But if this is the case, then why all the pushback against the Times story? Why the insistence that Jeanette Rubio's driving record should not be conflated with Marco's, let alone held against him? If the family, not the individual, is the basic social unit, then it's perfectly fair to judge the Rubios collectively, rather than as individuals.

Yet those who stuck up for Rubio argued just the opposite. They wanted people to judge the Rubios' driving habits strictly on his record, not as a family's.

This has happened before. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote a master's thesis on "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade." In it, he condemned "the self-centeredness of modern individualism" and lamented how the Supreme Court has "created a view of liberty based on radical individualism." Marriage is not just a tenuous contractual relationship between autonomous individuals, he insisted. It is a "covenantal bond of commitment."

Yet when McDonnell found himself entangled in a scandal for taking gifts, he tried to dodge responsibility by blaming his wife and daughter. A dietary supplement pitchman seeking state help for his business gave the family, among many other things, $15,000 to help pay for the wedding of McDonnell's daughter Cailin. McDonnell said in a radio interview that he had no part of it. "The decision really ultimately was my daughter's," he said.

"My daughter indicated that she wanted to pay for the wedding. She and her husband had come to us early and told us what they wanted to do and how they wanted to handle things. And I signed the initial … contract, I initialed it. She asked me to do that. I didn't want her to pay for her wedding. And, ah, this is something that was important to her." So it wasn't a family deal. They were just a couple of autonomous individuals held together by only tenuous bonds.

That's certainly how the authorities saw it. They indicted, and eventually convicted, McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. But they convicted them as individuals, not as pieces of a larger family whole.

Which is appropriate, because that is how the rest of society operates. When people vote, they don't cast family ballots; they cast individual ones. When a company hires a new employee, it hires an individual—not an entire family. Individuals, not families, go to prison for committing crimes; individuals, not families, get college degrees and credit cards and Social Security numbers and summonses to serve on juries. All those social arrangements refute the notion that the family is the basic unit of society.

And even if they did not refute it, simple logic would. You can break apart families, take the individual parts, and combine them to form new families. You also can take the individual parts of families and combine them to create other small societies: bowling leagues, Kiwanis clubs, elementary schools, armies and so on.

Bowling leagues, armies, and other social groups can be formed quite easily using only individuals. They can't be formed at all using any unit smaller than the individual person. An elementary school composed only of pieces of individuals, such as torsos and big toes, probably would have a hard time meeting standardized-test benchmarks.

None of this means families are superfluous to society. They're essential, and societies that have tried to pretend otherwise (such as Bolshevik Russia and Israeli kibbutzes) have failed miserably. But essential is not synonymous with fundamental. That's a lesson conservatives shouldn't find too hard to swallow. Just ask Marco Rubio.

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  1. Jezebel level article.

    1. You are too kind.

    2. If the family, made up of individuals, is the basic unit of society, and society is made up of individuals and families, isn’t it all of society that’s to blame for Mrs. Rubio’s driving infractions?

      This sounds totally logical to me.

      1. It takes a village to drive safely.

  2. I usually like Hinkle. But this is Salon-level analysis right here.

    1. Well, they can’t all be woodchi…winners.

    2. Amen. When conservatives refer to the family as the fundamental unit of society, they are talking about something very different in practice than individualism (usually).

  3. ABH is really reaching here.

    To put it mildly.

    Oh, and:

    “Last month, columnist David Brooks even went so far as to argue the “notion that society is made up of individuals” is “false” and “illusory.””

    OK, so are you calling David Brooks a social conservative?

    1. Brooks is a Republican hack. Which means he’s a social conservative to the extent the R party platform is.

  4. Just because families are, to coin a phrase, “essential,” doesn’t mean that whenever your spouse drives recklessly, *you* drive recklessly. It *does* mean that you should help your spouse fight their tickets, and maybe advise them to drive better in future.

    The basic point is that SoCons trigger such a sense of ritual pollution that some authors forsake rational analyses in order to make “gotcha” points which only make sense inside the authors’ own heads.

    1. “You talk about supporting the traditional family, but…but…you eat peanut butter sandwiches? Don’t you see the contradiction? Don’t you?”

    2. Libertarianism has a pretty long tradition of the moral primacy of individuals, not collective associations. That’s all that’s going on here.

      1. What’s going on here is a breakdown of logic:

        (1) Social conservatives are icky
        (2) Speeding tickets!
        (3) Some Republican went to prison!
        (4) David Brooks!

        THEREFORE:

        (5) Social conservatives are icky.

        QED

      2. Libertarianism has a pretty long tradition of the moral primacy of individuals, not collective associations.

        You find the published work laying down the most basal points of libertarianism and the moral primacy of individuals.

        I’ll find, within the same work, the parts clearly delineating how it distinguishes itself from libertinism and/or anarchy.

      3. No, what’s going on here is that Hinkle is taking a SoCon talking point (“Families are the basic unit of society”), ignoring all subtlety and nuance in that statement, and then claiming that by SoCons own logic they should assign collective guilt to Rubio because someone in his family is a bad driver.

        1. In the larger picture, he’s pitting libertarianism, not just against the Republican Party, but against the family.

          Sorry, I’ll choose a different hill to die on and recommend to my kids that they do the same.

      4. Yes for a political movement heavy on childless, single males libertarianism is uniquely alienated from the basic unit of human life. It helps that nothing ends libertarian sympathies quicker than having a few kids. But that seems like an issue for libertarianism until at least someone derives another way to raise children.

        1. “Yes for a political movement heavy on childless, single males libertarianism is uniquely alienated from the basic unit of human life. It helps that nothing ends libertarian sympathies quicker than having a few kids.”

          Gonna give you a D- for that trolling. Holy fuck the stupid in those sentences burns.

          1. It’s conventional for someone to offer a counter argument but I understand libertarianism is a heremetically sealed bubble of mutual re-inforcement so you don’t actually have a counter-argument beyond point and sputter. SJWs and libertarians pointing and sputtering towards Gommorah.

            1. How do you expect someone to offer a counter argument to gibberish?

        2. I must be some kind of supernatural, godlike being. . . I didn’t become libertarian until after I had children, after I was married, after I quit drinking.

          Quitting the over-consumption of alcohol made a huge impact – I realized that Demoblicans & Republicrats only make sense when one is falling-down, puking, drunk.

      5. “Moral primacy” of individuals? WTF does that even mean?

  5. On the Shikia article the right leaners here assert she’s violating individualism, here on the Hinckle one they decry the same. Sheesh.

    1. Seeing as how even the most reckless of antinomians admit that individualism and eight year olds doesn’t exactly mix it’s pretty damn providential that our ancestors created a small, flexible institution to raise babies in the adult individuals capable of exercising autonomy. That this institution effectively leveraged the complementary nature of the sexes is just icing on the cake. Individualism doesn’t exist without the mediating institution of family to protect those individuals that aren’t yet old enough to make and be responsible (admittedly you aren’t very big on personal responsibility being an arch nanny-stater) their own decisions. There is absolutely no conflict between individualism and families. None.

      1. “There is absolutely no conflict between individualism and families.” Well, I wouldn’t go far. I think you make an okay case for the two being complementary sometimes, but in many parts of the world and for much of history, the family exercised quite a bit of control over the affairs of the individual members, especially regarding marriage. Since marriage is the formation of a new family unit, that was a lot of power in the hands of the family and the possibility of conflict with individualism was there. There was also a lot of control over the female spouse in terms of finances, divorce, and physical well-being. There should be conflict when the needs of an individual are different than the needs of others in the group. I think it’s okay to concede that point and still endorse the family unit rather than over-state the case that there’s no conflict whatsoever.

    2. On the Shikia article the right leaners here assert she’s violating individualism,

      OK.

      here on the Hinckle one they decry the same.

      Indeed. They are both wallowing in collectivism, and we criticize them for it. Why the “Sheesh”?

  6. Very bad logic by Hinkle. The basic unit of capitalism is the business entity. Therefore, according to Hinkle, if the CFO steals from banks, the Chief Counsel is equally guilty.

    1. Hinkle doesn’t even think he should be accountable for everything a self-selected staff of this magazine writes. Yet he cashes the check from Reason every week.

    2. Therefore, according to Hinkle, if the CFO steals from banks, the Chief Counsel janitor is equally guilty.

      Yeah, how you get from “families are good” to “collective punishment to the third degree of relation” is a bit of a mystery.

  7. Counterargument: If we put the Rubios in the White House, both of them will be off the road for a good four to eight years.

    1. Yeah, instead of being reckless behind the wheel, they’ll be chauffered everywhere and they’ll block off the streets wherever they go.

  8. Also, this article makes no sense

  9. No essential and fundamental don’t mean precisely the same thing. But if anything families are more fundamental than they are essential. A society of single deracinated people could exist, but it wouldn’t continue to exist. That goes to a question of fundamentals not essentials. Hinkle can’t even win at his own word game.

  10. Holy fuck this is a retarded article. Strawmanning, and totally not getting the POV of most conservatives.

    “If the family, not the individual, is the basic social unit, then it’s perfectly fair to judge the Rubios collectively, rather than as individuals.”

    The family is the basic SOCIALIST unit, the only kind of socialism that (sometimes) works worth a damn, because everyone in a family knows each other well and can retaliate against bad behavior.

    That doesn’t mean that people who believe in the importance of a family are necessarily, or even likely, arguing for collective accountability. To say that is to completely misunderstand the POV of socons.

  11. The family is the basic social unit.

    This means that the family is the most basic society. It is the first society that any individual creates or belongs to.

    Because individuals create societies. Not the other way around.

  12. Still, given the choice, I’d rather have families be sovereign than some larger collective be. So conservatives get you part of the way to where you’d want to be.

    OTOH, it’s frequently been inferred that “family values” is just a way of (or code language for) subjugating women to men. (In one way, though, it works out vice versa: child custody.)

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