By the look of him, you’d never guess that Marco Rubio played defensive back on his college football team — even if the school was the now-defunct Tarkio College, folded deep into the remotest cornfields of northwest Missouri. But he did, and on the gridiron he showed the same gift that has guided his path from downy-cheeked member of the West Miami City Commission at age 26 to the highest reaches of American politics: an unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time. No matter the play, “he was never out of position,” one still-impressed teammate told Manuel Roig-Franzia for his new book, “The Rise of Marco Rubio.”
The position that Rubio finds himself in now, of course, is in the top tier of Mitt Romney’s vice presidential prospects. Still young (if no longer downy-cheeked), handsome, well-spoken and — most important of all in today’s identity-obsessed politics — Hispanic, Rubio is presumed to have special pull with the voters of electorally crucial Florida, which he has represented in the Senate nearly as long as Barack Obama represented Illinois. Not long at all, in other words — less than two years, during which he, like Obama, has carefully cultivated a following far beyond his home state that will make him all the more appealing when Romney makes the call.
(Simon & Schuster) - “The Rise of Marco Rubio” by Manuel Roig-Franzia
Publishing a Rubio biography on the cusp of the presidential election, Roig-Franzia shows the same gift of timing. A reporter for The Washington Post, he’s a good choice to tell the story of Rubio’s life, having demonstrated last year that he knows the subject better than Rubio does. Roig-Franzia was researching the senator’s family history when he discovered documentary evidence that his parents had not fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba but had immigrated to the United States in 1956, three years before Castro came to power.
The revelation was important — although not as important as Roig-Franzia seems to think it is — because Rubio had for years used his parents’ flight to freedom as the centerpiece of his stump speech, which drew tears and standing ovations from one audience after another and, thanks to YouTube, became a kind of political trademark. There was some evidence that Rubio should have known the story was incorrect even as he was using it to wow his audiences. Roig-Franzia’s discovery made Rubio the Elizabeth Warren of 2011.
It had two other effects, neither of them good. First, it obscured the point of Rubio’s anecdote, which was intended less to illustrate the malevolence of Castro than the beneficence of the United States as a haven for newcomers — whether immigrants, exiles or refugees — and the Rubios are an instant case whatever year they made the crossing. And second, it has evidently led Roig-Franzia to believe that he should open his book in a defensive crouch, using up far too many pages to establish that his revised version of the family lore is “irrefutable.” It won’t take long for the reader to cry uncle. Nothing slows down a narrative like verbatim transcripts of exclusion hearings of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1962.