Immediately after Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination in May, we political analysts found ourselves immersed in the veepstakes. This is essentially a gussied-up form of entrail reading, and the analysts haven’t come close to getting the Republican choice correct in 32 years. The process does, however, fill copy during the summer doldrums.
This year, much of the attention focused on the junior senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Rubio, who pulled off one of the more spectacular “David against Goliath” campaigns in 2010 when he effectively drove Governor Charlie Crist out of the Republican party, seemed to check off many of the boxes for Romney: young, telegenic, articulate, from a swing state, and from a crucial and growing demographic. In the end, Rubio was not chosen — on that, more later — but he clearly was on the campaign’s shortlist until the end.
Perhaps anticipating the attention that would be lavished upon the senator this summer, and maybe hoping that there would be even more to come, two authors dedicated books to exploring and fleshing out the contours of the rising GOP star.
One book, An American Son, is a memoir from the senator himself. Its tale begins over 100 years ago, with the birth of his maternal grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia. From there, we learn the (partial) story of his grandparents’ immigration to the U.S. We learn the basic details of Rubio’s childhood: his time in the south-Florida Cuban community, the years spent in Las Vegas, his love for football, and his family’s dalliance with Mormonism and return to the Catholic Church.
These are in many ways the most enlightening portions of the book, as this is where the reader develops a sense of how Rubio became who he is today. The author conveys a powerful sense of the importance of his family in his development; the portions describing the death of his grandfather and the effect it had on his family are particularly touching. Rubio’s grandfather’s feelings toward Ronald Reagan were especially important in shaping Rubio’s views; this subject is revisited throughout the book.
From there, it is a surprisingly quick read, detailing Rubio’s journey through college, the Florida House of Representatives, and on to the U.S. Senate. The book’s roughly 100 pages on the Senate race are particularly engrossing, as the reader receives a rare insider’s view of the Rubio campaign’s repeated near-death experiences and fully enjoys the comeback story.
If Marco Rubio were not a political wunderkind who apparently came within a whisker’s breadth of becoming the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee this year, this would still be a fine, even inspiring memoir. Whatever Rubio’s detractors may say, his story is in many ways a Republican version of Barack Obama’s. Obama likes to observe in speeches that his grandfather was a goatherd in Kenya, while Rubio relays the story of a grandfather who was born beneath a palm-frond roof. The reason this resonates is as simple as it is obvious: Obama and Rubio are living proof that the Horatio Alger “myth” is actually still alive and well in this country. Rubio’s memoir reminds us that, for all the stories of American decline, this country still remains a place where a family can rise from obscure roots to the highest echelons of power in a breathtakingly short period of time.