Sen. Marco Rubio gave a powerfully evocative speech. Sure, his delivery could use a little work. And he lost me on many of his stated policy positions. But his focus on his personal journey and the story it told were relatable to any American not ensconced in the 1 percent — or who hasn’t forgotten his or her hard work and sacrifice to break into the 1 percent. There was one paragraph in particular that irked me, but let’s focus on the positive for now.
Rubio’s up-from-nothing life story is inspiring. “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,” he said. How can you not help but puff out your chest in pride for the promise of this nation? Just as then-candidate Barack Obama said about his own story in his 2008 speech on race, “In no other country on earth is [his] story even possible.”
And you have to be made of stone or have a heart of ice (assuming you have one) to not be moved by the powerful imagery of Rubio’s vignette about his father and the American Dream.
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.
My father was grateful for the work he had, but that was not the life he wanted for his children. He wanted all the dreams he once had for himself to come true for us. He wanted all the doors that closed for him to be open for me.
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.
I am neither a Republican nor a son of immigrants. Yet, Rubio’s story resonates strongly with me. My cousins and I are the first generation of our family that didn’t have to pick cotton. I am the grandson of a grandmother who worked in her North Carolina town’s peanut factory and cleaned the homes of white families. I am the grandson of a truck-driving paternal grandfather who hauled those peanuts all over the South. And I am the grandson of another grandfather who worked in the shipyard in Newport News, Va.
None of them went to high school or even college. My parents did. And after my father died when I was just 4 months old, my mother worked hard and sacrificed aplenty to climb the nursing ladder while earning two master’s degrees and ensuring that I was prepared for the world to come. Because she — they — did all that, I have the privilege of inflicting my opinions on you from one of the greatest newspapers in the country. That’s why there was a twinge of recognition when Rubio said, “The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has.”
Still, there was that irritating passage in Rubio’s speech.
If we remember that family – not government – is the most important institution in society, that all life deserves protection, and that all parents deserve to choose the education that’s right for their children, then we will have a strong people and a strong nation.
From the perspective of the Republican Party primary base, this is rhetorical heaven. But his definition of family is exclusionary. One that doesn’t include the gay family I could have. More on that in the next post.
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