The political world is abuzz with Marco Rubio updates, rumors, speculations. Will the Republican Senator from Florida be on Mitt Romney’s ticket? Will he help Republicans win back the Hispanic vote? From the psycho-right wing: Is he eligible to run? People outside junkie circles of punditry have also started to pay attention to the Cuban-American mentee of Jeb Bush as he’s won the hearts of Tea Partiers and has quickly become a recognizable figure outside of his home state.
Considering all this, the June 19 release of Rubio’s memoirs would seem perfectly timed, if it were not for the fact they were rushed to press months ahead of schedule to coincide with the release of Washington Post journalist Manuel Roig-Franzia’s The Rise of Marco Rubio – presumably so Rubio could immediately contradict any negative claims made against him by Roig-Franzia. (An American Son was originally slated for October.)
Rubio’s tale begins with his family’s immigration to the United States in 1956, three years before Fidel Castro took power, contradicting Rubio’s past rhetoric that his family fled under Castro’s regime – this fabrication was exposed in 2011 by Roig-Franzia. The story of Rubio’s parents, Oriales and Mario, is a familiar, American one, though it especially resonates in South Florida: They came with nothing, worked hard, and gave up a lot so their children could achieve what they couldn’t.
Rubio’s family settles in Miami, his father taking various jobs bartending and giving up his dream of being a business owner. His mother abandons aspirations of becoming an actress. When Rubio is 8, the family moves to Las Vegas, chasing a better life and more stability.
It is while in Vegas that Rubio’s family, until then practicing Catholics, become involved in the Mormon Church. Oriales sees it as a safe community for her children. Rubio throws himself into the religion, partly because so many of his friends belong to the church and partly because this is the beginning of his spiritual exploration, another constant in his life. At 12, Rubio begins researching Catholicism on his own and decides he would like to return to the Catholic Church. The family agrees.
It is also during this time that Rubio develops an interest in politics. He writes he was a Democrat until he was 9, until the Iran hostage crisis. Like not-too-many 9 year olds, Rubio decides Ronald Reagan would save the world. And like many 9 year olds, he believes he’s well-informed enough in something to make a life-long commitment to it. In this case, a political party.
After six years in Las Vegas, the family returns to Miami. A little bit of culture shock ensues, but the teen eventually settles into a comfortable life. His parents aren’t rich but they are willing to sacrifice for their children. Life gets better when Rubio enters high school. A good-looking kid and popular football player, he parties hard and is less-than-stellar in the classroom.
No worries though – he gets a football scholarship to (now defunct) Tarkio College in Missouri. However while at Tarkio, bad things begin to happen. His grades remain unimpressive, he injures himself playing football, and the college is probably closing down.
Rubio decides he wants to go to the University of Florida, but due to his terrible grades, he knows he can’t get in. He attends Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville to boost his GPA. It’s after he transfers to the University of Florida that his interest in politics is rekindled. He volunteers for his first political campaign: that of state Senator Lincoln Diaz-Balart. At one point, he attends a Democratic rally out of curiosity. He deems it unimpressive – 9-year-old opinion affirmed – and writes off any residual possibility of being bi-partisan. He also meets his future wife Jeanette.
Rubio’s interest in politics grows and he decides to attend law school at University of Miami. From that point there’s no turning back. Rubio admits to a slight obsession with the political world and joins the Dole campaign.
His law career seems to come second to his political ambitions, causing tension between him and his bosses. Nevertheless, his political ambitions take off. Rubio is elected to the state Legislature and eventually becomes majority whip and then Speaker of the House.
But the problems don’t stop at the office. The more Rubio is away from home, the more annoyed Jeanette gets. Since his service in the legislature, they’ve had four kids. Rubio knows he’s not being the greatest husband or father, but he can’t seem to give up politics.
Then Obama is elected. He and Jeanette agree that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to the United States and he needs to do something to save us all. Moderate Republicans aren’t helping the cause. Conservatives are our only hope.
What follows is his run for the United States Senate and his sparring with then-governor Charlie Crist, which makes up a long drawn-out story of political attacks. Tea partiers latch on to him as their leader and the rest is, well, going on right now.
Rubio describes in detail all of Crist’s attacks, as well as those from the press, and proceeds to give his explanation for each claim made against him. He defends himself against allegations of sketchy financial decisions. He tells us he didn’t know his parents came to the United States before Castro was in power. And he takes the opportunity to discuss parts of his background that could be blown up if he were to be on the Presidential ticket – such as his sister’s husband being arrested for dealing drugs. Now, that was a story I wanted to know more about. It seems a helluva lot more interesting than the time he spends talking about playing football. Unfortunately, he glosses over the details.
Rubio openly admits that his political aspirations have at times hurt his family. This becomes most apparent when his son almost drowns in the pool while Rubio is on the phone with a possible donor. Still his crusade against liberals (and moderates) everywhere continues and he embraces his position as a Tea Party leader.
There is an interesting story that lies within An American Son. Beneath all the explaining, defending, and accusing that Rubio does is a tale of immigrants trying to make it in the world. However, the majority of the book is spent talking about poll numbers, fundraising, and how conservatism is the answer to all our country’s problems. Partisan readers, then, will find a lot to love, but the tale of an American son gets lost amid the politics.
Sen. Marco Rubio will make four stops in South Florida Saturday, June 30 as part of his book tour. 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church (1101 S. Flagler Dr., West Palm Beach); 12:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble (2501 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale); 3:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble (12405 N. Kendall Drive, Miami); and 7:30 p.m. at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables).