Marco Rubio is 'One of Us' after all

October 25, 2011

Senator Marco Rubio, the baby-faced Florida Republican, got into a bit of trouble last week when The Washington Post revealed some inconsistencies in his political biography. In the last few days, an interview he gave to NPR a while back has raised additional questions.

By week’s end, he’d ended up promising he wouldn’t accept the VP slot on his party’s ticket -- a position that made little sense if in fact he was as outraged as he claimed to be over the Post’s reports.

Much amuses me about this story but what I find most astonishing is that the GOP ever imagined that Rubio could actually be a plus factor on a national ticket. His pullback is a gift, and they should be relieved.

Is Marco Rubio the son of exiles or the son of immigrants? And does this matter at all? This is the basic crux of the question.

Perhaps with another politician, this could be treated as semantic. But since his arrival on the political scene, Rubio has staked out a particular place: on matters of immigration, he has consistently separated himself and his circumstances from the Latino hordes.

Sen. Rubio, the GOP’s great Latino hope, supports -- in fact, co-sponsors -- E-verify and backs Arizona’s 287. He is so completely out of step with other Latinos that he opposes the DREAM ACT -- a law so necessary in Latino eyes that even Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, stalwarts of the GOP and of the Cuban-American right wing, both back it.

The very idea that Latinos -- other than Cuban-Americans -- would vote for Marco Rubio, a politician who directly opposes their interests, on a national Republican ticket is plainly absurd.

Nonetheless, by standing beside politicians with strong anti-immigration positions, Rubio gives them a measure of cover from accusations of racism and -- because there are so few people of color in the GOP -- enhances his profile on the national stage, makes himself a pretty special guy to some folks.

So, did Rubio then embellish his personal narrative to accomplish just that? Rubio wants to have it both ways: “As the son of immigrants, I know how special America really is,” he tells Politico. “As the son of exiles, I know how much it hurts to lose your country.”

Rubio says it doesn’t matter if his parents came in 1956 or 1959 or 1961, that the narrative of exile is the same.

Except that it’s not. If Marco Rubio’s parents came legally to the U.S. in 1956, as he likes to stress, they were economic immigrants and have much more in common with the horde of non-Cuban Latino immigrants than with the first wave of Cuban exiles that followed Castro’s revolution.

“They came because they wanted to achieve things they could not achieve in their native land,” Rubio said last Friday.

And that’s great -- but that’s not exile. Exile is what happens when you flee, when you can’t stay in your own country; exile is, at its core, involuntary. Rather than the fuel to pursue dreams, exile shatters them.

That Rubio doesn’t know the details of his family story is worrisome. That he now insists the experience of exile is so subjective it can be acquired by some kind of community osmosis is insulting.

As it turns out, Sen. Rubio is no child of exiles but the son of a Latino family who came, like millions of others,  not fleeing communism or persecution at all, but pursuing a better life.

As it turns out, Marco Rubio is not so special after all.