At a conference marked by MAGA caps and periodic chants of "Let's go, Brandon!" Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) this morning opted for an earnest appeal.
"The American Revolution—what was revolutionary about it was it had this audacious idea that rights were from God, not from a government," he said from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) main stage in Orlando. "The founders of this nation understood that human nature was, if they ever got power, there would always be people that would want to make everybody else live, think, say the things they wanted them to say, and do the things they wanted them to do. And they built protections against it. Because none of us are immune from it."
The 10-minute speech was intended as a warning against cancel culture and COVID-related mandates from the left. Deliberate or not, it was effectively also a case against the self-proclaimed "Common-Good Conservatives" who have spent the last few years demanding that the right support "muscular" government with the power to reorient society to their liking.
I summarized that view in 2020:
All societies have rulers, the Will-to-Power Conservatives seem to be saying; what matters above all else is ensuring that our tribe is dominant.
Don't take my word for it. In a recent symposium published by The American Conservative, editor of American Affairs Julius Krein (echoing his colleague Gladden Pappin) complains that "contemporary conservatism" lacks "a serious approach to wielding political power." Hillsdale College's David Azerrad argues that conservatives must learn to be "manly," "combative," and "comfortable" using "the levers of state power…to reward friends and punish enemies." And Claremont's Matthew J. Peterson insists that "conservatism must not merely make arguments…it must act on them, wielding 'regime-level' power in the service of good political order to do so."
Rubio himself has adopted common-good rhetoric, beginning with a 2019 address at the Catholic University of America. But his CPAC speech raised at least the possibility that the senator, whose parents immigrated to South Florida from Cuba in 1956, has reconsidered that approach in the last couple of years.
"I was raised by people, and surrounded by people, and to this day live surrounded by people who know what life was like in other countries," he said. "They know how special America is and they know what real tyranny looks like. And frankly, even though they've had an enormous impact on my life, as I look back now, I took for granted their warnings about what happens to a society and to a people when we empower those who believe that their job is to tell the rest of us how to live and think and believe."
Ultimately, Rubio said, "the most valuable thing we have" is our freedom, and when it's lost, "it is so hard to reclaim it, to get it back." He's right about that. Here's hoping he recognizes the threat when it comes from the right as well as the left.