The Corner

On Rubio’s Shift of Tone

A great deal has been said about the manner in which Marco Rubio wielded his personal story in yesterday’s announcement speech. And rightly so. His family biography is one of his best weapons against both the other contenders within his own party and against Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. Currently, Hillary is complaining about CEO pay. And yet she makes $300,000 per speech. She is contending that the game is rigged for those at the top. And yet, she is at the top. She is lamenting that the country’s leadership is not working. And yet she and her family and their party have provided much of, if not most of, that leadership during the last 20 years. If Rubio plays his cards right, he can make Clinton’s gripes look hollow — or, even better, he can blame her for the very problems she is highlighting.

That being so, it was interesting to see Rubio shy away in his rhetoric from the typical Republican focus on company owners and job creators and small businesses, and instead talk about the voters that make up 90 percent of the country. It was said after the 2012 Republican Convention that Romney messed up by not inviting a janitor or a cook up onto the stage to join all of the little capitalists he had running around telling their tales. Rubio seems unlikely to repeat this mistake. Rather he prefers to talk like this:

Both of my parents were born to poor families in Cuba. After his mother died when he was nine, my father left school to go work. My mother was one of seven girls raised by a disabled father who struggled to provide for his family.

And this:

My father became a bartender. My mother a cashier, a maid and a Kmart stock clerk. They never made it big. But they were successful. Two immigrants with little money or education found stable jobs, owned a home, retired with security and gave all four of their children a life far better than their own.

And this:

My candidacy might seem improbable to some watching from abroad. In many countries, the highest office in the land is reserved for the rich and powerful. But I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege.

And this:

I regret my father did not live to see this day in person.

He used to tell me all the time: En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos.

“In this country, you will achieve all the things we never could.”

On days when I am tired or discouraged, I remember the sound of his keys jingling at the front door of our home, often well past midnight, as he returned from another long day at work. When I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate all he did for us, but now as my own children grow older, I fully understand.

And this:

My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years, so that tonight I could stand behind this podium in the front of this room. That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, is the essence of the American Dream.

Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now.

The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has…

The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town… 

The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices … and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere…

Rubio mentioned small-business owners only once. He mentioned blue-collar workers constantly. That’s a shift, and one the likes of Walker, Perry, and a possibly a few others are likely to echo — even if they don’t have Rubio’s family story to underscore the point.


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