Here’s a fun fact about Marco Rubio, the 41-year-old Republican Senator from Florida: his first job was building cages for exotic birds.
He’s not the first politician to start small; Ronald Reagan washed tables in a women’s dormitory, Jimmy Carter worked on his father’s farm and Barack Obama worked in an ice-cream shop. (My first job was as a cashier in a supermarket. I would regularly restrain myself from slamming tins of baked beans onto the feet of kiddies who, ignored by harassed parents busy emptying enormous trolleys, would climb up to play on the conveyor belt.)
Now that the election is over and the GOP is hiding in a cupboard rubbing cream on its slapped arse, political buzz is focused on where the party goes now and who should take it there. Rubio is one of the young generation of Republicans being touted as a possible candidate for 2016.
A politician since the age of 28, Rubio came to national attention when he entered the Senate in 2010. Ticking all the boxes of the GOP youth wing – a conservative, Catholic son of Cuban immigrants, married with four shiny children, charming on the stump, looks good in chinos and pale blue button-down shirts – he had been thought of as a possible VP for Romney, and was given a high-profile speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.
Rubio is a small, neat man, rather stocky and pear-shaped. His hair, slightly fluffy at the front, looks like it may be receding. Yesterday I sat in the back row of a small room in a D.C. museum and watched him being interviewed. While he doesn’t have the physical presence of say, a Santorum or a Gingrich, he is quietly effective at stilling a room. Perhaps it is because he looks so young and unassuming; he wouldn’t look out of place in khaki shorts leading a troop of Boy Scouts.
When Rubio gives a speech, he pauses every now and then to make sure his point has hit home. He is funny, charismatic. When he is interviewed, however, he turns into Henry James; why use just one word when twenty will do? In amongst all the predictable guff he uttered (will you run in 2016? “I want to focus on being a real good US Senator”) I picked up the following words: kids, faith, struggle, dreams, success, belief, family, values, principles, jujitsu (yes he said that, respect). Brevity is not a characteristic that comes naturally to politicians, but Rubio better get used to not saying the same thing five different ways if he wants people to listen.
After the interview I attempted to write a list of the issues that Rubio had spoken about. It was easier to remember the names of all the boys I had kissed in my teens, and I had pretty much blanked out those pitiful years.
The only thing that really stuck in my mind was Rubio’s response to the question ‘is homosexuality a sin?’ He replied that his faith teaches that it is indeed a sin, as is lying, stealing, coveting your neighbour and wearing turtle-necks if you’re a guy (I made that bit up but damn, it should be a sin).
But wait, what’s this? You will be reassured that after condemning the homosexual population of America to a hell with no cocktails or show tunes, Rubio stressed that he isn’t going to get all judgey-wudjey on your gay ass. Glad he cleared that up.
Rubio and others such as Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal are scrambling to distance themselves from the negative messages that oozed from Romney’s campaign. I am reminded of David Cameron’s attempts in 2005 to dispel the view that the Conservatives were the nasty party, a label that returns again and again. The GOP is still in shock that it misjudged the electorate so badly, but there is recognition that things must change within the party, as Rubio said yesterday: “We have to apply [our] principles to the 21st century“.
The GOP has its work cut out convincing the public that they can embrace, and speak for, all Americans. Rubio maybe the man to start that process. What do you think?