Marco Rubio’s campaign webpage prominently features this assertion: “nothing matters if we aren’t safe.”
Maybe I’m being oversensitive to this kind of appeal, and I realize it’s just election-time sloganeering, but placing the goal of “safety” – either domestically or abroad – above all things is one of the most vacuous promises of American political life. Especially when we consider that by almost every measurement we’re safer now than we’ve ever been. The fundamental problem, a person might argue, is that everyone is trying to make sure we’re always feeling unsafe as a means of disregarding what actually is fundamentally important.
Now, I get that Rubio is probably arguing that there needs to be a level of security for a citizenry to flourish. This is, indeed, one of the fundamental jobs of any nation. Yet, when Rubio gave his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations the other day, unveiling the Rubio Doctrine, he claimed that the “world has never been more dangerous than it is today, but in the New American Century, a stronger America will make the world safer.”
Everything about that sentence is awful, but especially the promise. But, as my own jingoistic inclinations go, I’m all for aggressively crushing terrorists and peacefully promulgating American idealism, which is by any historical measure both morally and functionally superior to anything else going on in the world. But, while the world may never be safe enough for Rubio, asserting that it has “never been more dangerous than it is today,” is without factual basis. Even when we consider all the cruelty and brutality in the world, and there is plenty, there’s a far better case to be made that, for most humans, the world is safer than ever. It’s safer from disease, safer from train accidents, safer from genocide, safer from crime, safer from barbarians raiding villages and dragging your family into slavery, and it is certainly safer from world war.
It should be noted that appealing to fear is nothing new or especially partisan. The Obama administration’s has long argued that, if Americans didn’t subscribe to its prescriptions, an economic collapse was imminent; if we didn’t vote for Democrats, that women would once again be second-class citizens; and if we didn’t support Obamacare, even those of you who could somehow traverse our crumbling infrastructure and reach a doctor would soon be dying in the streets without medical insurance. This is politics.
But if “nothing matters if we aren’t safe” from foreign threats, does that mean that all other things are less important until we feel safe? This seems like an unhealthy message in a free society. And how safe is safe enough before that fundamental need stops trumping all others. We’re never going to be completely safe from terrorism or from bad cops or from genetically modified foods. There are a host of legitimate risks that have to be dealt with, one being the reemergence of radical Islam, but lots of other things are fundamentally important to Americans. Anyway, we have a bad record of conducting policy driven by fear. Often it means unending projects that empower those in charge to do whatever they like whenever they like and push policies that make us less free but not all that much safe