Monday, December 11, 2017
Opinion

TheRubioParadox

What to make of a Republican Party that celebrates upward mobility but does nothing to promote it — despite the stunning fact that it is now less likely that an American child will rise from the station of his or her birth than children in most of Europe? Call it the Rubio Paradox — for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a sure contender for the national ticket someday after his performance last week in Tampa, and the most eloquent current exemplar of this American creed.

The striking thing about the Republican National Convention was how all of the most powerful speeches invoked tales of ascent from humble circumstance. But no family's American dream was as moving or well told as Rubio's, whose parents went to Florida from Cuba penniless in the 1950s and worked tirelessly to give their children the chances they never had. Rubio said his dad always told him, "You can do anything in America." The father bartended endless hours in the back of banquet halls, Rubio said, so that one day his son would be able to stand at the podium in the front of the room.

Anyone listening to Rubio's moving tale surely thought, "Yes! This is exactly what America is about!" But the stories were all we got. No Republican speakers offered any policies to renew upward mobility in the United States. In fact, nowhere did the Republicans acknowledge that upward mobility is now greater in many other countries with feudal or aristocratic histories.

When Republicans mentioned their policy plans at all, it was mostly to peddle standard bromides of tax cuts and smaller government, as if these are the answer to everything. Their ideas for school choice and "opportunity scholarships" for children stuck in failing schools sound appealing, but only for the tiny fraction of students to which they apply. With no serious ideas to renew upward mobility, and a budget plan that perversely undermines it by slashing preschool and college aid for poor youths, the entire pitch, on closer examination, seemed a hollow exercise in nostalgia.

Unfortunately the Democrats, who kicked off their convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday night, will do only marginally better. To be sure, Democrats will say their passion is to ensure that the circumstances of one's birth do not determine one's destiny. But given President Barack Obama's proposals, the outer limits of Democratic ambition are unequal to today's challenges.

The president won't insist on extending high-quality preschool to every poor child, for example, something nations with greater upward mobility routinely do. He won't mention, much less propose to remedy, this country's unique and shamefully unequal system of school finance, which dooms poor children to the least qualified teachers and shabbiest facilities in the country.

While the president will talk a good game when it comes to improving college affordability, nothing he proposes will alter the fact that a year's tuition at public college now consumes a quarter of median family income, while at private colleges the figure has jumped beyond 50 percent. And even as the president takes credit for modest increases in the maximum value of Pell Grants available to help defray these costs, he won't point out that in 1976 this maximum grant covered 72 percent of costs at a typical public college, while today it covers only half that much.

A real agenda to restore the American dream would entail much bolder steps in these areas. Republicans, afflicted by the Rubio Paradox, don't want to spend the money. In their hearts, Democrats want to, but they can't figure out how — especially when they're afraid to call for broader taxes, deeper defense cuts or slower growth in health and pension programs for seniors that increasingly crowd out funding for the young and vulnerable.

For all the nostalgia and soaring aspirations, in other words, it turns out that this country isn't serious about renewing upward mobility at all. Something will need to shake up the boundaries of debate before pretty words can change the odds for millions of luckless Americans born into poverty and chaos.

Matt Miller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. © 2012 Washington Post

Comments

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17