BOOK REVIEW: ‘An American Son’

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AN AMERICAN SON
By Sen. Marco Rubio
Sentinel, $26.95, 320 pages

THE RISE OF MARCO RUBIO
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Simon & Schuster, $25, 291 pages

The Republican Party next month will give Mitt Romney its de jure recognition at its convention in Tampa, Fla. — a swing state that in 2010 turned against Barack Obama and the Democrats’ administration of the fiscal crisis.

Florida in no small part turned because Marco Rubio — a rising local star — made his Senate race a national referendum on Obamanomics. His reward was a landslide victory, buzz about bigger and better things, an autobiography at the tender age of 41 and book-length treatment from a veteran Washington Post journalist.

Mitt Romney certainly earned his party’s mantle, surviving an internecine primary knife fight. The American people will come back from the lazy, hazy days of summer after Labor Day and be treated to a historically unprecedented, multibillion-dollar battle. As President Obama has made clear, this election is about two different choices — although his characterization as to what is behind Door No. 2 is rhetoric if you like it and demagoguery if you don’t. Stay with me and we will work as a just people toward a better, brighter fairer tomorrow, or choose Mitt Romney’s Republican Party and its laissez-“unfair” policies, where the rich like Mr. Romney get richer, the middle class gets poorer and the American dream fades into the night. The president did not write those words, but he could have. He has projected his worldview in our heads.

We are told by those in the know that the choice of a vice-presidential running mate doesn’t matter much. When it comes time to make sense of polling data, it’s wiser to look at big-picture averages, particularly the Real Clear Politics average. But when we apply the data to a comparison of elections and look for the VP “bump,” it clouds our judgment.

The real answer is that the importance of a running mate depends on the election. If you are Mr. Obama, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan, your choice amounts to a statistical rounding error. If you are Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole or Al Gore, it matters. Why? Those who vote think politicians should be able to talk, connect and clarify on the public stage. When it’s Mr. Bush versus Mr. Gore — neither skilled talkers — it’s a push, so voters look to brand loyalty. Those in the middle ask if they are better off than they were four years ago.

Mr. Obama is a natural, Mr. Romney is not. Whereas Vice President Joseph R. Biden has done the president little good, Mr. Romney needs to bring onto the ticket someone who can effectively frame what stands behind Door No. 2.

Is that person Marco Rubio? Based on my reading of Manuel Roig-Franzia’s “The Rise of Marco Rubio,” he ought to be on the shortlist of publicly vetted candidates. As Florida bureau chief for The Washington Post, Mr. Roig-Franzia knows the Miami fishbowl and the Tallahassee toilet. He serves up very good political journalism, the type of fare our republic needs in the political diet.

Is Mr. Rubio perfect? No, the boy wonder is human but not all-too-human. His vices are small, like when he used a work American Express account to cover personal charges that he paid for when the bill came due. If only every politician were so fallen.

His virtues — both political and personal — are significant. Politics is not a game, but it properly can be likened to one. Games have rules, players, referees and fans. While on the football field, Mr. Rubio is said to have held his own as a defensive linebacker. On the political field, where you’re still learning the game in your 40s, he is a refreshing natural, a sort of elected Tim Tebow.

Mr. Rubio’s most defining asset is his popular tongue. He can frame an issue with the best of them. Mr. Rubio “can turn an anecdote about planting trees in one sun-parched neighborhood into a reverie about the power of public service,” wrote the Miami Herald at the dawn of his political career.

Whereas Mr. Obama has made too much of the role of luck in human affairs, Mr. Rubio’s success shows that political fortune favors those with the uncanny ability to adjust their tactics and strategy in pressing circumstances. Mr. Rubio is a serial winner of “snowball’s chance in hell” races. Writes Mr. Roig-Franzia, “Good timing matters, but it is not everything. Execution counts too, and each time Rubio’s timing has been good, his execution has been even better.”

Most interesting in Mr. Roig-Franzia’s account is how Mr. Rubio connects with those around him of greater political stature and makes them a part of Team Rubio. From Miami-Dade County Commissioner and former West Miami Mayor Rebeca Sosa, who favored her “Marcito” for a seat on the West Miami City Commission, to Johnnie Byrd, who took Mr. Rubio under his wing in Tallahassee, to former Gov. Jeb Bush, who appears to have noticed and supported him from the from beginning, Mr. Rubio has risen quickly and without buyer’s remorse through well-defined and regulated channels. At core he is a team player, willing to help others around him and wait his turn for advancement.

In “An American Son,” Mr. Rubio’s self-assessment is strikingly earnest. He speaks naturally of what is going on in his heart and soul. “I know the work I do can be good and honorable, especially if I use my office to honor God. But I know its costs too.” We live in a jaded age in large part because those in leadership positions seem to lack a moral compass. Like Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, Mr. Rubio is a public figure with a private family life of substance. Maintaining this balance of public and private responsibilities takes a delicate, grounded and self-conscious soul.

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