Maybe There Is Actually Hope for 'Centrist' Politics?

By James Fallows

RubioBrookings1.jpgI know, that's crazy talk, and I don't really mean it. But compare this passage from Sen. Marco Rubio's speech just now at Brookings with anything you heard in the past year's GOP debates or campaign rhetoric. (AP photo at right.) Emphasis added:

In this new century, more than ever before, America should work with our capable allies in finding solutions to global problems. Not because America has gotten weaker, but because our partners have grown stronger. It's worth pointing out, that is not a new idea for us. Our greatest successes have always occurred in partnership with other like-minded nations. America has acted unilaterally in the past - and I believe it should continue to do so in the future -- when necessity requires. But our preferred option since the U.S. became a global leader has been to work with others to achieve our goals. So yes, global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct. [What????]

Preferably, we can succeed through coercive means short of military force. We should be open to negotiations with Iran.

I was in the car, listening to the speech on C-SPAN radio when he said these words; as has been noted, I live a glamorous life. Just like in a movie, I had the momentary clichéd feeling that I might veer off the road in sheer amazement at the strange sounds reaching my ears. This is, after all, the same Sen. Rubio who was an early darling of the Tea Party and who just a few days ago was saying that George W. Bush had done a "fantastic" job as president. (Maybe he just believes in talking nicely about all presidents?)

He is also the same Sen. Rubio who is frequently bruited as the VP candidate for a party whose foreign policy rhetoric this year includes no previous known occurrence  of the phrase "this administration is correct" and that has essentially equated "being open to negotiations with Iran" with "admiring Neville Chamberlain at Munich."

Is this a sign of a post-primary pivot-to-the-center for the party as a whole? Of a "call me crazy" moment by Rubio himself? Of a rogue speechwriter taking control? I don't know -- and it's highly likely that we'll hear the opposite tone again soon. But it is a moment too unusual not to notice. (Heather Hurlburt analyzes the speech at Democracy Arsenal.) Update: Conor Friedersdorf notes the main omission from Rubio's speech.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/04/maybe-there-is-actually-hope-for-centrist-politics/256360/