Two new books, including a memoir, offer an inside peek at Marco Rubio’s rise.
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In Rubio, the GOP has a handsome, eloquent surrogate who can testify to the power of the American Dream, and do so in fluent Spanish, no less. Pundits often describe Hispanic voters as a largely monolithic bloc — two-thirds pulled the lever for Obama — but Rubio can strongly argue that they need not remain so. (As he did when Harry Reid told reporters, “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican.”)
It remains unclear, though, to what extent strong Hispanic surrogacy can aid the party. Liberals will fight back by painting Rubio as an Uncle Tomás. In 2010, a trilingual Tampa newspaper called La Gaceta wrote in a blistering editorial that Rubio had “turned his back on his Hispanic family.” To add further insult, the editorialists referred to the candidate only as “Marc Rub,” writing that “we have stripped Marco Rubio of his Hispanicness and the vowels from his name.”
Further, Rubio’s position on immigration reform, an important issue for Hispanic voters (though not, by any means, the only one), often seems devised to thread the needle. He opposed the high-profile Arizona immigration law (now partially invalidated by the Supreme Court) when it was announced. Later, after the law was modified, he said he would not wish such a law on Florida, but understood Arizona legislators’ plight. At a 2010 Senate campaign debate held by Spanish-language channel Univision, when asked how the U.S. should handle the millions of illegal immigrants already within its borders, he steadfastly declined to answer the question. He opposes the DREAM Act and President Obama’s imposition of a similar measure by fiat. Instead, he unveiled his own DREAM Act that pleased neither the left nor the right.
THESE TWO BOOKS, the first shelved in what is sure to be an expanding collection on Rubio, have their flaws. Roig-Franzia’s is based entirely on third-party sources. So when, for instance, the future senator’s grandfather drops from Cuban public records, Roig-Franzia wanders off to discuss the island’s history. Rubio’s effort slides at times into political backslapping. Both books burn pages by retreading — without adding new information — scandals that were aired by the Florida press and answered by Rubio years ago.
Yet each book performs a useful service. The Rise of Marco Rubio puts the senator’s friends and associates on the record, and it reminds readers that Rubio is a grizzled political veteran, not an outsider as is often his persona.
An American Son provides a surprisingly honest window into the man himself. Rubio struggles to balance politics with raising his young family. He is upfront about his political ambition, and admits that when Crist seemed unbeatable, he strongly considered running for state attorney general instead. “I wanted to be someone more than I wanted to do something, and I preferred the path of least resistance to my ambition.”
Given the rigors of campaign life — long hours on the road, uncomfortable (and justified) questions about one’s AmEx statements — it’s bleedingly obvious that burning ambition was part of Rubio’s equation. But such a statement is worth remembering as an invitation to check your wildest Tea Party fantasies at the door.
Rubio first won elected office at the age of 26, and but for about six months between leaving the Florida statehouse and announcing his U.S. Senate candidacy, he’s been campaigning and winning elections ever since. At the age of 41, he published a memoir that, for all its charming anecdotes, reveals little about his political philosophy.
He recently voted in favor of protectionist quotas on sugar importation, a stance National Review dinged as “old-style Florida politics.” In an article on Rubio’s burgeoning press shop, Politico reports that he paid consultants $40,000 to preemptively dig up dirt on…himself. When the Internet was set afire by discussion of how much medal-winning Olympic athletes would owe the IRS on their return, Rubio introduced a totally pander-riffic bill, the self-explanatory Olympic Tax Elimination Act. “Our tax code is a complicated and burdensome mess that too often punishes success,” Rubio said in the official press release. (“So we can probably squeeze in another two lines of exemption,” he continued in the totally made-up press release in my head.)
There’s no doubt that Rubio is an excellent orator, and his family’s story — from the destitution of Cuba to the drapery of Congress in one generation — epitomizes the American dream. In a state with 3.8 million Social Security beneficiaries, he made headlines by suggesting during a televised debate that the retirement age be raised. Washington is better with him in it. (Especially considering the shudder-inducing alternative: Senator Charlie Crist.)
But a politician he remains. And you should never give your heart to a politician, not even one so inspiring as Marco Rubio.
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