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Marco Rubio gave a short speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, after which he took a few questions from the audience. It put some journalists into raptures: “He delivered a master class on foreign policy” wrote Tim Mak. I figured I’d better see this for myself.
Yes, yes, I know, watching the whole thing takes too much time. You’d rather just read the transcript. That’s what I thought, but I couldn’t find it. No, not just the speech, the Q&A. That’s what I want you to watch.
Back up for a second. One of our new members wrote a great first post the other day. He had a clever idea for getting a bit more debate out of the upcoming Republican debate cycle. (As he explained, he’s been lurking on Ricochet since the founding days of this place, but he only recently took the plunge and joined. CL, man, we’re so glad you finally got here. No, of course you’re not too late. Come on in. Just throw your coat over there with all the others. Have a seat, have a glass of wine, the party’s only starting. The rest of you clever lurkers, don’t stand on ceremony. Click here for your free first month.)
Okay, back to Rubio.
I’m not going to give the speech a point-by-point review. Rubio is very likeable. He said some things with which I agree and some I don’t. He sounds like someone who reads the news every day. He didn’t confuse Iran and Iraq. He didn’t look like a deer caught in the headlights.
But we have a poverty-of-low-expectations crisis going on here. Shouldn’t we expect that as an absolute baseline in a presidential candidate? On his first day in office, he’ll be the Commander-in-Chief of United States military, and he won’t have time to learn about any of this once he’s elected. Any candidate who can’t get through twenty minutes of easy Q&A at this stage should never have got that far in the first place. That’s the bare minimum we should expect.
That’s not to say I didn’t like what I saw. I would be very willing to hear him out. But I don’t want the soundbites. I don’t want to know that if asked about about a serious issue, he can manage fifteen seconds without causing an international incident or saying something he’ll never live down. That’s the least I expect.
I’d like to watch a thoughtful, informed interviewer sit down with him for a few hours–yes, hours–and have an adult conversation with him. One that involves follow-up questions. Not adversarial questions designed to lure him into a trap, but questions that allow me to really hear his arguments and understand how he thinks.
I don’t want the candidates to tell me, over and over, how badly Obama’s screwed everything up. I know that. I don’t want to hear what we should have done. It’s too late. I want to hear what they think we should do–and why. I want to know if they make sense when presented with polite, sincere, serious, and sustained counter-arguments. And I cannot imagine any debate format, frankly, in which that will happen.
The other day, Titus started a conversation about whether we still need aircraft carriers. If you haven’t read the post and the ensuing discussion, have a look. Having read them, consider what Rubio says about this issue: from 48:20 to 48:33.
Thirteen seconds is not enough time to make any kind of serious argument. I’m not criticizing him for failing to do the impossible. I just want to know whether he’s able to make a serious argument in a context where it would be possible. I want to know whether he’s given as much thought to this question as everyone who commented on Titus’s post. That’s not an unreasonable standard, is it? And it’s entirely possible he has. But I won’t know from watching these speeches and debates. We’ll hear the same soundbites over and over. Interviewers will try to lure the candidates into embarrassing gaffes. No one will ask serious follow-up questions. We’ll flit from topic to topic without learning if any of the candidates have considered these issues deeply. We’ll hear the same quick, canned crowd-pleasers over and over. And we’ll find this normal.
But why? I’d know so much more about Marco Rubio if he joined Ricochet and had a few discussions with us. We’ve recently debated many of these issues–seriously, politely, and in far more depth. We do it in a public format. No one here’s running for the highest elected office in the United States, but we’re able to do it. Why shouldn’t we know if the man who will actually have to make these decisions can discuss and defend his views just as thoughtfully?
It’s not Senator Rubio’s fault that modern mass politics gives candidates no chance to debate and develop their ideas like adults. It’s the medium, not the message. But we’ve solved that problem on Ricochet.
So Senator, why don’t you come on over and join us for a conversation. We’d love to have you. Click here for your free first month. Don’t worry, you’re not too late at all.