This has been quite a week for equaling major historical achievements. Jordan Spieth tied Tiger Woods’ mark for the best score at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. And a day later Mrs. Marco Rubio announced she will try to tie George W. Bush’s record at the White House in Washington, D.C. Mister Bush, you will recall, is the only cheerleader to ever take up residence in the White House. Jeannette Rubio is hoping to match him in that distinction.
Of course, old George cheered for the Yale baseball team, which is designed for playing but never actually winning. Jeannette plied her craft, or art, for the Miami Dolphins football team, which wins now and then. In fact, the Dolphins are the only team ever to have a perfect season, back in 1972, which might bode well for Jeannette’s quest, although the Nixon campaign also was undefeated that year and that did not work out very well over time.
Another record being challenged currently belongs to Barack Obama. At this time he is the only President with a surname ending in a real vowel, not an “e” cushioning a soft consonant as in Pierce or Coolidge and not a “y” as in Kennedy (or Dewey, according to the Chicago Tribune), which is a part-time vowel at best. If Marco Rubio wins, he will join Obama in that distinction. He has accused Obama of behavior inconsonant with the Constitution while he in turn promises full avowal of the American Dream.
Now you might think this all seems frivolous and beside the point, but then you would be out of touch with the state of American politics. The electoral process today is all defined by image politics and identity politics and racial politics. Or if you prefer, Facebook politics and Twitter politics and Instagram politics. It is all about crafting a brand or a product with a shiny veneer and the right designer label. In the old days a man made a name for himself; nowadays the man substitutes a name for his self. The politics of personal construction.
So before we examine the substance of Marco Rubio’s campaign — announced Monday night in Miami — we are forced to confront the snapshot, the narrative, the sound bite. Despite being a serious man, the candidate very much wants us to know he is a young fortysomething devoted to attending his children’s football and soccer games; he wants us to know he is the son of Cuban immigrants; he wants us to know his father was a bartender and his mother was a maid. In that context, the ethnic surname and the perky wife are very relevant to the campaign.
Cutting through the fat to the meat of his candidacy, Rubio makes the passionate case that the American Dream only allows individuals to transcend the circumstances of their birth because the government is less controlling. If food and health care is doled out from above, then the Doctor Mengele system takes over, with the children of the rich to go to the success door and pick up their diploma and job while the children of the poor go to the redistribution door and pick up their subsidy and their stamp of permanent poverty.
The citizen must be free to find his way through schools and companies and merchants competing to teach him and hire him and sell him stuff. It is that gritty odyssey that can chart a course for the son of the bartender to the United States Senate. It can even embolden him to sail between the Scylla of the media and the Charybdis of Democrat hatchet men and navigate toward the Oval Office.
Whether this message still resonates among the electorate is a question to which we would all desperately love to learn the answer. Do we still have gold rushers and wild westers and wall streeters and homesteaders and oil drillers and coal miners and risk takers, or is our destiny manifestly mired in dependency? Are the Young and the Restless and the Bold and the Beautiful still present in the Days of Our Lives, or is the fat lady singing through the final scene of the soap opera?
Rubio claims his parents’ story is still relevant and we can drop the food stamps in favor of the fast lane. We should not be writing off large swaths of society, dooming them to glum gloom and glomming off the glamour they cannot glimmer. Instead we should consider giving Jeannette an R and a U and a B and an I, and even an O.