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9th January
2014
written by Sean Noble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the last few months there has been an undercurrent of murmuring, mostly within the beltway, that Rubio’s presidential hopes had been dashed on the rocks of immigration reform and that the shiny objects of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz had eclipsed the former tea-party darling.

But we’re a long, long way from the next presidential nominating contest in the GOP and Rubio is proving that he is still a relevant voice for the party, particularly when calling folks to the higher visions of American Exceptionalism in a way that would make Ronald Reagan proud.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s speech on the “War on Poverty,” Rubio gave a stem-winder that demonstrates that he has a compelling story to tell and that he understands, in his bones, the kind of things that do and don’t work when striving for the American Dream.

I have excerpted some of my favorite portions below, but it’s well worth the time to read the whole thing.

My parents, like most people that have ever lived, were raised in a country where they were trapped by the circumstances of their birth. But just ninety miles away there was a country where, through hard work and perseverance, anyone could get ahead. And so they came here with virtually nothing.

Their first years in America were difficult. They worked long hours for little pay. But they kept on, and in time, their lives improved. They never became rich or famous and yet they lived the American Dream. Because like most people, for them happiness wasn’t about becoming wealthy. It was about finding work that paid a livable wage. It was about a happy family life, retiring with security, and one day giving their children the chance to be anything they wanted.

My parents’ story, of two everyday people who were given the chance to work their way into a better life, is a common one here in America. A defining national characteristic rooted in a principle that was at the core of our nation’s birth: that everyone has a God given right to live freely and pursue happiness.

This conviction has proven to be far more than just a line on a founding document. It has become the shared and defining value of a nation. It has set America apart and attracted people from every corner of the world.

The visionaries, the ambitious, the people who refused to accept the stagnant ways of the old world, they came here. They brought their ideas and their dreams. And finally, free from the restraints placed upon them in the nations of their birth, they helped build the most prosperous nation in human history.

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Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson sought to address the plight of poverty by waging a war against it. On that day, he stood before a joint session of Congress and vowed, “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”

His very next sentence served as a small window into his big-government vision for this war, and into its future failures. He said of the War on Poverty, “The richest nation on earth can afford to win it.” And with those words, he foreshadowed the belief still held by liberals to this very day: that government spending is the central answer to healing the wounds of poverty.

***

Social factors also play a major role in denying equal opportunity. The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.

Fifty years ago, today, when the War on Poverty was launched, 93% of children born in the United States were born to married parents. By 2010 that number had plummeted to 60%. It should not surprise us that 71% of poor families with children are not headed by a married couple.

The decline of marriage and the increase in the percentage of children born out of wedlock is driven by a complex set of cultural and societal factors. But there is another interesting impediment to marriage worth keeping in mind. A 2011 report by the Pew Research Center found that 64% of adults with college degrees are married, while only 47% of those with a high-school education or less are.

***

Real American free enterprise is about a broad and growing economy that creates opportunities for everyone to get ahead. It creates the opportunity to become wealthy. But it also creates good and stable middle class jobs like the ones my parents had.

But instead of fostering a vibrant job-producing economy, our federal government is a major impediment to the enterprise and ingenuity of our people. An expensive tax code, burdensome regulations, and an unsustainable national debt are suffocating our economy’s ability to create enough steady and good paying jobs. That is why poverty and inequality have only gotten worse under the current administration.

Instead we need policies that make our country the easiest and best place in the world to create jobs. This means removing the uncertainty created by a dangerous and growing national debt, enacting a simple and affordable tax code that incentivizes investment, and eliminating regulations that prevent employers from expanding and our energy sector from growing.

***

Therefore, what I am proposing today is the most fundamental change to how the federal government fights poverty and encourages income mobility since President Johnson first conceived of the War on Poverty fifty years ago. I am proposing that we turn Washington’s anti-poverty programs – and the trillions spent on them – over to the states.

Our anti-poverty programs should be replaced with a revenue neutral Flex Fund. We would streamline most of our existing federal anti-poverty funding into one single agency. Then each year, these Flex Funds would be transferred to the states so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity.

This worked in the 1990s with welfare reform. In that case, Congress gave the states the ability to design their own programs, and in turn the states enacted policies that promoted work rather than dependence. In the years that followed, this led to a decline in poverty rates and welfare expenses.

***

I haven’t been in Washington long, but I’ve been here long enough to know that everything here gets analyzed through the lens of electoral politics. But upward mobility and equal opportunity is not a partisan issue, it is our unifying American principle.

And it has always been a focus of my public service going back to my days as a state representative. Because for me, this is personal.

I am but a generation removed from poverty and despair. Where would I be today if there had never been an America? What kind of lives or future would my children have if this was not a land of opportunity? What if my father had been stuck working as a bar boy his whole life instead of making it to head bartender.

What kind of life would I have right now? In all likelihood, I too would be among those on the outside looking in, forever frustrated that my parents had no power or privilege and that I was therefore unable to achieve my full potential.

Our status as a land of equal opportunity has made us a rich and powerful nation, but it has also transformed lives. It has given people like me the chance to grow up knowing that no dream was too big and no goal out of reach.

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