The choice by the Republican Party of Marco Rubio to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union Address spoke volumes. In my opinion it told us something very interesting about how the Republican Party perceives itself, perceives the electorate and perceives the world.
When Rubio was first elected to the Senate from the state of Florida in 2010 he was the darling of the Tea Party. He ran against the Republican establishment in support of extreme views on the economy and America’s place in the world. He was perceived as young, attractive and energetic with an all American story as the son of immigrants from Cuba striving to succeed in their new country. But he was not the face of the Republican Party establishment, until yesterday. The fact that a Tea Party darling was selected to deliver the official Republican response yesterday tells us a great deal about where the party is going. There was a time when the Republicans could be described as a right of center party. Today they must be described simply as a right wing party. What is more interesting is the fact that there was a second unofficial response, this one from the Tea Party by Rand Paul. So, while the Party has given in, and moved far to the right, it is not far enough to the right for Rand Paul and his right wing extremist colleagues.
The choice of Rubio was particularly cynical and shallow. Furthermore, it is patronizing to the Latino electorate. Do they really think that putting a Latino out there to represent the party, with the same old Romney stump speech, is going to somehow begin to attract the Latino electorate? His speech was edgy, angry and confrontational. It targeted President Obama and provided not a single substantive recommendation in any area challenging our nation. In this case his youthful appearance merely added to the perception of inexperience and lack of depth. He provided another illustration of why the Republican Party continues to be viewed as the “party of no”. It further shows that they really don’t understand the Latino community.
The choice of Marco Rubio tells us something about the Republican view of the world as well. While Rubio is leading a Senate effort to develop a comprehensive immigration bill, his reasons for doing so are not benevolent. It is simply a means to an end. The end is to develop a narrative that attracts the Latino electorate to the Republican Party. However, everything else about his party tends to repel such voters. They are opposed to sustaining or expanding all safety net or educational programs. They view the world as a dangerous place that has to be kept in line. And of course, it is our responsibility to keep it in line. While they are willing to expend blood and treasure on foreign entanglements, they see no need to expend that same effort on domestic issues. They applaud individual initiative, yet they are not willing to help create a level playing field to cultivate and enrich the roots of that initiative.
I have said many times that our system of government thrives on a two party system. Yet, the Republicans continue to forfeit their role by simply refusing to participate in a transparent, honest and constructive manner. Choosing Rubio was a cynical and patronizing decision by a party that is running out of time. I truly hope that they find their way soon, and remember their responsibility to participate in a constructive way in the governance of our nation. The world is watching and despairing.