The American son, it seems, is having his moment in the sun.
Florida’s junior senator Marco Rubio isn’t just the fastest-rising Hispanic political star in American politics today. He’s also a contender to become Mitt Romney’s running mate. And, thanks to a perfectly timed release, he is also the author of a memoir that hit bookstores this week, while an unauthorized biography, "The Rise of Marco Rubio" by Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia, came out yesterday, the same day as Rubio's book.
“An American Son,” centers on Sen. Rubio’s dramatic political rise as the son of Cuban exiles who struggled to establish themselves in a new country. The child of immigrants who worked blue-collar jobs to send their son to college, where he played football, went on to earn a law degree, then commenced a lightning-fast ascent in politics, Rubio is the quintessential American son here.
And Rubio’s story hits shelves just as his name hits headlines as a potential – and popular – contender as Romney’s running mate. As a Hispanic senator elected in a Tea Party-fueled victory from the swing state of Florida, Rubio has a lot to offer the Romney campaign. He could provide a clear path to improving the GOP’s strained relationship with the country’s fastest growing minority group (though, as political watchers have pointed out, Rubio is Cuban, a group with which many Mexican-Americans do not necessarily connect).
“Rubio also brings other political credentials, including hero status with many conservative Christians and Tea Party supporters, a proven ability to raise big money and residency in the nation's quintessential swing state,” reports USA Today in a story about the junior senator’s book and his turn in the limelight.
“As the country changes demographically, he's an appealing candidate who has the ability to connect with audiences defining conservatism,” Steve Schmidt, a top strategist for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign, told USA Today. “The other aspect is that Marco Rubio was born in the 1970s. When he inevitably runs for national office, he will represent a generational change.”
As Linda Feldman wrote in a recent Monitor piece, “Rubio is a young, charismatic, Hispanic conservative from a top battleground state.”
That’s also why his book couldn’t have been timed better – and why it’s shooting to the top of Amazon’s bestseller ranks just a day after its release (as of posting time, “An American Son” was #21 on Amazon’s bestsellers list – ironically, just ahead of “Barack Obama: The Story.")
In it, Rubio charts his family’s journey to America and his own journey to one of the top political offices in the US. His parents fled Cuba in 1956, just before Fidel Castro came to power, then worked blue-collar jobs in Miami and Las Vegas to provide for their four children.
“I was nothing like my father, motherless and working since he was nine,” Rubio writes in his memoir, as excerpted by the Daily Caller. “He had gone to bed hungry many nights. He had lived in the streets and slept on a wooden crate in a storeroom. He had tried and failed and tried and failed again to start a business. He had lost his country. His work as a bartender had him coming home late at night well into his seventies I had never heard a single complaint escape his lips.”
Driven by his passion for football and politics, Rubio attended a smattering of smaller colleges where he played football before earning his law degree at the University of Miami. A handsome salary at a law firm helped further establish Rubio and his family before the driven first-generation Cuban-American ran for the West Miami City Commission, which led to the Florida House of Representatives, and an extreme long-shot upset against Florida’s popular incumbent governor Charlie Crist that landed Rubio in a Senate seat at the young age of 40 (he’s the second-youngest US senator after Utah’s Mike Lee, who’s just seven days younger).
In the book, Rubio reveals for the first time that he considered dropping out of the Senate race.
“Had the Republican Party chairman or Crist himself reached out to me personally in the spring of 2009,” Rubio writes, “they could probably have persuaded me not to run. I’m not proud of it now, but I think if they had acknowledged my concern that the party had strayed too far from our conservative principles, I would have walked away from the Senate race. I was looking for a face-saving way out. Instead, out of pride and hubris, they chose to intimidate me. And I, too, reacted out of pride.”
It was, we learn in the book, Rubio’s wife, Jeanette Dousdebes, a former Miami Dolphin cheerleader, who persuaded him to stay in when he was ready to quit. “Nothing important in life is easy,” she scolded him at the time, according to USA Today.
Beyond sharing his inspiring, if somewhat conventional rise, de rigueur for any politician on the upswing, Rubio also uses his memoir to clarify some controversial aspects of his history – like the time he told reporters his parents fled Cuba after Castro came to power (they had fled before), the thousands of dollars in personal expenses charged to the state GOP-issued American Express Card he used, and the Tallahassee state capital house he co-owned that went into foreclosure.
Nonetheless, most of Rubio’s memoir follows his “American Dream” of a journey to the Senate – similar, in fact, to that of Barack Obama’s. Only time – and the polls – will tell whether it resonates enough with Americans to have a similar ending.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.