Political Hay

Smearing Rubio

There are questions only conservative Republicans are asked.

By 11.26.12

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In a recent interview, Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican front-runner for 2016, was asked, "How old do you think the Earth is?"

It's a ridiculous question of utter irrelevance to the status of the country and whether Marco Rubio would be a good president. Rubio's answer was excellent: "I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that."

To any sensible person, this was a perfect response. Predictably, however, liberals responded right on cue with knee-jerk condemnation. An editor for the New York Times -- that flagship of faith and reason -- judged Rubio's response "ludicrous." A writer at the liberal Slate, who no doubt Googled before crafting his analysis, claimed authoritatively: "Our planet was formed 4.54 billion years ago. If Rubio suggested otherwise, it's because he's uninformed or stupid."

Ah, yes. I'm sure everyone at Slate knows that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old.

As for myself, I have no idea how old the Earth is, and could care less. If someone asked me that question out of the blue, I couldn't give an answer. I've been a scientist, an agnostic/borderline atheist, a Protestant and a Catholic. I've taught Sunday School, Religious Ed, lectured at colleges, collected data at top research labs, and everything in between. I've published in scientific and political journals. And I don't know the answer to that question either. I know that my Catechism gives a different answer than the folks down the street at the big independent evangelical church. I know, as Rubio does, that theologians dispute this.

In fact, anyone with a serious, sincere interest in this question knows this. But, of course, the question wasn't asked to Rubio out of serious, sincere interest; it never is when posed to a Republican. The liberals blasting Rubio aren't being serious and sincere.

Marco Rubio needs to understand two things at play here: 1) these types of questions will only get worse; and 2) these are not earnest questions. No, these are political booby-traps set by political partisans who work as journalists. They are used to try to caricature conservatives as extremists.

I recall a painful example with George W. Bush when he first became Texas governor. Bush was known as a committed Christian who had a late-in-life conversion. For the secular liberal media, this meant that Bush was a "fundamentalist," even though he wasn't. For the liberal media, it also presented an opportunity.

And so, one journalist asked the governor if Jews get into heaven. Taken by complete surprise, Bush fumbled his answer. Afterward, he thought long and hard about it. He consulted Billy Graham, who was instrumental in Bush turning his life around. The next time Bush got the question he was ready. It was December 1999, when he was running for president, and when his opponent, Al Gore, wasn't (of course) getting asked any such questions by the liberal media. Bush's answer was a good one:

It's really important for somebody in my position to live the word, in this case, but also understand that people communicate with God and reach God in dif­ferent ways. It just doesn't have to be my way. And I think it's really important if you're trying to unite a nation that is as diverse as ours is to spend more time living the example I've learned of Christ as opposed to lecturing. And I really mean that. Obviously there's the big issue between the Christian and the Jew, the Jewish person. And I am mindful of the rich traditions and history of the Jewish faith.

And I am mindful of what Billy Graham one time told me: for me not to try to figure out -- try to pick and choose who gets to go to heaven…. [I]t is very important for people to not be haughty in their religion. And there's all kinds of admonitions in the Bible; haughtiness, rightfulness is a sin in itself…. Billy Graham said, "Don't play God." I don't get to determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That's not me. Governors don't do that.

That's a really good response: "Governors don't do that." They "don't play God." They don't get to decide who goes to heaven.

Marco Rubio wasn't asked this same question, at least not yet. Nonetheless, his answer might be the same: "Sorry, man, I'm not playing God."

In fact, here's a further response Rubio might consider more generally: "Look, Mr. NAME, let's be honest: We both know what you're trying to do. You're trying to trip me up, and I'm not going to fall for the trap. I'm not a theologian. I'm not a minister. I don't want to be one, and the American public doesn't want me to be one. Let's stick to the issues that concern people. And one more thing: Are you asking these same questions to any Democrats? Are you? Answer me. Which ones? Give me one example."

Say it calmly, gently, and with a smile -- but emphatically. Be strong. Be truthful. Be honest.

The larger political issue here is that the liberal smears on Marco Rubio have already begun, and they will not be relenting. Conservatives want Rubio to run, and we should. We have from the beginning, and now feel an even stronger urgency given the way Hispanics voted for Barack Obama. In fact, it's for those reasons that liberals, including their "journalists," will torpedo RubAs for conservatives, we need to be honest where liberal "journalists" are not. We should defend Rubio, and not penitently put our tails between our legs and merrily tell the mainstream media we agree with them. We don't need fellow Republicans pandering to the press: "Yeah, I guess Rubio's answer was narrow-minded. Pretty dumb guy. I agree, he's another Dan Quayle. But you guys like me, right?"

No, they don't. They'll do it to you, too -- when the time is right.

Well, the time is right for Marco Rubio. And it's going to be a tough time. I suggest that both he and conservatives be smart and strong and ready, and just as aggressive in responding as liberals are in demonizing.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.