Social & Domestic Issues

Marco Rubio reached to grandfather’s perseverance in moments of despair

Marco Rubio reached to grandfather's perseverance in moments of despair
Marco Rubio, left, stands with his mother Oria Rubio, right, after winning the race for Florida Senate, Nov. 2, 2010.

I remember the day Marco Rubio was designated Speaker of the Florida House on Sept. 13, 2005.  He gave a beautiful speech. He thanked his parents, he thanked his wife and he thanked God. And he called on Florida’s political leaders to think of their mission in one simple way: To make life better and to make the American dream real for more people. When he was done speaking, there was not a dry eye in the house.

Fittingly, Marco brought with him the best example that the American dream is real: His parents. Both his father and mother had led difficult lives. His father lost his mother early in his life, and was homeless at 14. He spent much of his life working low-paying jobs, and he worked as a bartender into his 70s. There was no wealth in the Rubio household and no easy paths. Economic insecurity and health problems dogged them all their lives. And their homes in Cuba were closed to them once Fidel Castro turned that island into a communist fiefdom.

Despite all this, they taught their four children that America could give them great opportunities if they were willing to dream and work towards their dreams. Marco’s memoir, “An American Son,” is as much their story as his. Without their struggles, the voice that pushed Marco through so many of life’s challenges – college and law school, starting a family, building a close relationship with God, managing a busy career, fighting through political adversity – would simply not have existed.

Time and again in this touching book, Marco calls upon their example to help see his own challenges as minor annoyances by comparison. Even in the depth of a drag-out battle for the Republican nomination to run for Senate in 2010 causes Marco to despair: “I wasn’t just feeling trapped by [Charlie] Crist’s maneuvering. Something else was gnawing at me. I was ashamed. I felt I had been tested by adversity and failed. … I was nothing like my grandfather, a disabled man who had lost his job and his status and yet took any work he could find to feed his family…. He had never quit. He had never given in to self-pity.” In the end, Marco also refused to give in to self-pity, and persevered to become one of America’s brightest and talented Senators.

This is an immigrant son’s story, more than anything else. It will be familiar to any first-generation American, whether their parents came from Vietnam, Russia or Mexico. Many of the stories here will strike a chord. The challenge of living in two different cultures. The hard experience of learning how to succeed without a network of well-connected friends and family. The resentments that are directed at immigrants, simply because of language, skin color and culture. Rubio does not gloss over those issues, but he does not fall victim to them either. He understands that to be an American, one must remain at heart an individual – confident, hard-working, accountable and honest.

Marco’s story may be familiar in certain respects, but make no mistake, his is an exceptional rise. Students in civics, politics and government should read this book – there aren’t many people in America who have achieved as much as Marco has in his four decades. He explains in rich detail why some of his bold initiatives worked, and why some didn’t. He also gives a blow-by-blow insider’s view of a political campaign in the modern era. For anyone wondering what running for public office is really like, it would be a good education.

It’s probably worth noting that Florida’s unique political system made Marco’s rise possible. In other states, there may be dozens of Marco Rubios waiting in the wings, but veteran legislators and politicians block their way. In Florida, term limits force the veterans out, and good thing, too. What we lose in institutional wisdom, we more than make up in fresh perspectives – people just like Marco Rubio.

Because this is a memoir and not a public policy treatise, readers will not see too much of Marco’s policy mind at work, and for that, they will have to read his speeches, opinion pieces and other policy statements. That’s a pity, because Marco has a powerful mind and forward-thinking streak. He is a rock-solid conservative, grounded by a foundation formed long ago. On that foundation, Marco has already built a shining career. But I suspect he is still building, and only he knows how big it could become.

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