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THOMAS: Putting government in its place

In my high school days before sex and environmental education and the general dumbing down of the population, memorization of some Shakespeare was expected in Miss Kauffman's 12th-grade English class. A favorite I still recall is this line spoken by Brutus in "Julius Caesar": "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries..."

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) repeatedly says in various ways it is too soon, or he isn't ready, for higher office, such as vice president. He's been in the Senate for a little more than seven months and has delivered only two major speeches -- his maiden speech on the Senate floor and one last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

In the Reagan Library speech, Rubio laid out his philosophical foundation, something that must be at the heart of any policy.

Defining the proper role of government ought to be the central issue in the coming presidential campaign. Indeed, it should occupy our thoughts between campaigns because those of us who pay income tax are not getting a good return on our investment.

Here's Rubio: "We have the opportunity -- within our lifetimes -- to actually craft a proper role for government in our nation that will allow us to come closer than any Americans have ever come to our collective vision of a nation where both prosperity and compassion exist side by side."

That takes the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush to a different level. To Rubio, prosperity is not the opposite of compassion. Rather, the two are -- or should be -- joined. Prosperity provides the means by which people can be compassionate to those truly in need, such as the disabled and elderly. It is also the ticket out of dependency for people who can work but have been robbed of their dignity by addiction to a government check. Dignity leads to many other character qualities, which advance the true welfare of an individual, benefiting society. Someone with dignity, self-regard and respect for others is unlikely to take part in a flash mob attack.

Rubio points to a path beyond the familiar "either-or" debate; beyond envy of the wealthy and multiple and ineffective programs to liberate the "poor." This repetitive scenario has produced, said Rubio, "a government that not even the richest and most prosperous nation on the face of the Earth can fund or afford to pay for. An extraordinary tragic accomplishment, if you can call it that."

Rubio went further than what might be expected of a Republican, acknowledging his party is partly responsible for the growth of government: "I know that it is popular in my party to blame the president, the current president. But the truth is the only thing this president has done is accelerate policies that were already in place and were doomed to fail. All he is doing through his policies is making the day of reckoning come faster, but it was coming nonetheless."

And then there is this, which shatters the left's stereotype about the right: "Conservatism is not about leaving people behind. Conservatism is about empowering people to catch up, to give them the tools ... that make it possible for them to access all the hope, all the promise, all the opportunity that America offers. And our programs to help them should reflect that."

If this is not a speech that lays the foundation for a Rubio run for higher office, it is a speech that ought to begin a major transition from costly and ineffective government programs to a renewed empowerment of individuals.

No one, perhaps not even Rubio, can know for certain whether he is "ready" for higher office. President Obama has proven he wasn't ready. Some leaders don't know they can lead until leadership is thrust upon them. The right philosophy is key and the Reagan Library speech proves that Rubio has the most important ingredient of any leader: vision. Read it, be inspired and then consider whether Rubio's tide is rising (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/rubio-emphasizes-prosperity-and-compassion-speech-reagan-presidential-library--591327.html.)