Will: Rubio's record of misjudgment
WASHINGTON – What boxer Sonny Liston's manager said of him (Sonny had his good points, the trouble was his bad points) is true of Marco Rubio. His strengths include intelligence, articulateness and, usually, cheerfulness. His misjudgments involve, in ascending order of importance, the Senate immigration bill of 2013, sugar, Libya and S-590. Together these reveal a recurring penchant for ill-considered undertakings.
Rubio's retreat, under withering political heat, from the immigration bill was undignified but not reprehensible. The bill had 1,197 pages because the 906-page Affordable Care Act had not slaked the congressional appetite for "comprehensive" solutions to complex problems. The immigration bill solved everything, down to the hourly wage of immigrant agricultural sorters ($9.84). Rubio shared this serene knowingness.
His sugar addiction is a reprehensible but not startling example of the routine entanglements of big government and big business. He has benefited from the support of Florida's wealthy sugar producers, who have benefited from sugar import quotas and other corporate welfare that forces Americans to pay approximately twice the world price for sugar. What is, however, startling is Rubio's preposterous defense of this corporate welfare as a national security imperative: Without our government rigging the sugar market, "other countries will capture the market share, our agricultural capacity will be developed into real estate, you know, housing and so forth, and then we lose the capacity to produce our own food, at which point we're at the mercy of a foreign country for food security."
This promiscuous invocation of national security brings us to Rubio's enthusiastic support of the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton intervention in Libya, which Rubio faults for having been insufficiently enthusiastic. This 2011 plunge into a tribal society's civil war, this eight-month assassination attempt using fighter bombers, this supposedly humanitarian imperialism appealed to Secretary of State Clinton and other progressives precisely because it had no discernible connection to any vital U.S. interest. Rubio supported this third adventure in regime change in the Muslim world since 9/11, perhaps on the principle that practice makes perfect.
Today, his sensible complaint is that the Obama administration (like the previous administration regarding Iraq) had no plans for preventing chaos after the Libyan regime was decapitated. His not-at-all sensible implication, however, is that America should have buckled down to nation-building there.
Rubio's misjudgment regarding Libya indicates a susceptibility to slapdash foreign policies. His support of S-590, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, indicates a susceptibility to trendy temptations, carelessness regarding evidence, and indifference to constitutional values.
Wielding irrelevant laws, spurious social science and financial coercion, the Obama administration is pressuring colleges and universities to traduce standards of due process when dealing with students accused of sexual assault. Claiming that a 1972 law prohibiting sex discrimination in education somehow empowers the government to dictate institutions' disciplinary procedures, the administration is dictating that a mere "preponderance of the evidence," rather than "clear and convincing" evidence, be used in determining a life-shattering verdict of guilt.
Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson — a lawyer and an academic, neither Republicans — write that the administration justifies this by citing a single "resoundingly discredited" study purporting to prove an epidemic (involving one in five women) of campus sexual assaults. The administration opposes allowing accused students to cross-examine their accusers, and favors a form of double jeopardy — allowing accusers to appeal not-guilty findings.
Rubio is one of 12 Republican senators collaborating with the administration by co-sponsoring legislation that would codify requiring improvised campus disciplinary proceedings to supplant law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Proposed by Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the legislation is, as Taylor and Johnson say, "designed to advance the administration's agenda." The legislation's language radiates prejudgment: By repeatedly referring to accusers as "victims," it presumes the guilt of the accused. Taylor and Johnson write:
"America's universities are in the grip of a dangerous presume-guilt-and-rush-to-judgment culture. ... An entire generation of college students is learning to disregard due process and the dispassionate evaluation of evidence. And dozens of clearly or at least probably innocent students, whose cases we will detail in a book we are now writing, have been branded sex criminals, been railroaded out of their universities, and seen their hopes and dreams ruined."
By co-sponsoring S-590, Rubio is helping the administration sacrifice a core constitutional value, due process, in order to advance progressives' cultural aggression. The next Republican president should be someone committed to promptly stopping this disgrace, not someone who would sign S-590's affirmation of it.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.