Is it 2016 already, a presidential election year? It feels like it, at least when you read the news and see the crazy politics going on, the subterfuge about sure-enough scandals, the usual, meaningless platitudes of some, the overreaching of others, the fumbles and stumbles that make you groan, the … but wait.
Not all of the candidates are like that. There’s one who keeps making you look again and again. It’s the Republican senator from Florida. It’s Marco Rubio, a declared seeker of the White House who does seem too young – he is just 43, almost 44 – and too inexperienced to end up residing there.
After all, we tried inexperience in the current resident and what it gave us was someone who did know how to campaign and kept at it vigorously after he was twice elected. Almost every day in every way, he kept campaigning. What he did not do was grasp what might work legislatively, deal ably with Congress, manage foreign affairs with the slightest touch of competence or understand how to work with others to manage the bureaucracy.
Understand, however, that although Barack Obama had been a community organizer who did little to actually improve his deteriorating neighborhood, Rubio was a Miami city commissioner. Obama was an Illinois state senator who avoided taking stances by voting “present” 130 times, and Rubio was the Florida House majority leader, a position in which he had to lead, had to negotiate, had to stand for something.
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While both were elected to the U.S. Senate, Rubio had to get there by taking on the incumbent Florida governor, Charlie Crist, a member of his own party. Seeing he would lose the primary, Crist got out and ran without party affiliation in the general election, losing badly along with a Democrat to Rubio. It was during that Senate campaign that I first became aware of Rubio, watching on TV news as he showed his comprehension of issues, how articulate he was, and demonstrated to me, at least, a spirit that combined a sense of caring with urgency to get things done.
He did something like that again when he announced his candidacy for president. He spoke not as a defender of the status quo, but as a challenger of the status quo, of the Old Deal Democrats who keep trying to be FDR all over again, as someone on the side of those without huge piles of cash, as someone bursting with ideas forged to deal with 21st century needs. Infuriating liberals who just don’t get it, he wants to do something about the sea of regulations that drown businesses and shut off opportunities for millions, but he also pleases some liberals when he seeks additional tax credits for workers as part of a fresh, bold anti-poverty plan.
The senator has taken heat on his efforts at immigration compromise, but he is absolutely on target when he wants to further refine policy to depend more on merit instead of family relations in deciding who is admitted. He wants America to stand tall again in world leadership, which, by the way, does not mean increased military conflict. Done the right way, it’s a means of keeping conflict at bay.
This son of Cuban immigrants has evinced remarkable character, though maybe his experience deficits do count seriously against him. Maybe Republican voters will turn instead to someone like Scott Walker, who has achieved so much as governor of Wisconsin in such difficult circumstances. As president, could Walker deliver? You would think so. There are others worthy of Republican attention, too, and it’s just 2015.
But sometimes, in our presidential contests, you look at the candidates and none is inspiring. One who has exhibited special qualities this time is Rubio, or so it seems to me. Keep an eye on him. I bet he keeps on shining.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.