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Monday, February 18, 2013

Marco Rubio versus the jinxes

Florida’s Junior Senator, Republican Marco Rubio.
By Cubargie Joe
The senator wants to be at the crest of the wave of Hispanic or Latino voters changing US politics

By Cubargie Joe
(José Manuel Pallí)

“Latinos R US” is a new weekly column from the United States, with an eye on South America.

In over thirty years following politics in the United States, I have yet to see a single national politician with a better hand of poker than the one Florida’s Junior Senator Marco Rubio presently holds.

In a political party that that has lost its bearings and shows ever more signs of disarray, Rubio has been monopolizing the spotlight while showcasing the very tools necessary to begin what, with luck, could be the Republicans road back to the White House. And he has wisely chosen to use his tools — charisma, youth, eloquence and, most prominently, biculturalism — to ride the immigration reform bucking bull right away, at the dawn of Obama’s second term. His hold of the braided rope seems more than firm enough to take him through the required eight-second ride and beyond, with a good chance of ultimately taming the immigration problem while overcoming the polarization sickness that has stricken US politics. A successful ride could turn him into the poster-boy for the flexibility, bipartisanship and consensus-building his country needs, if so many other issues are ever going to be dealt with.

So why on earth did he accept the task of responding to the President’s State of the Union address, a task many see as thankless and jinxed? Or, if he saw his party’s invitation as an offer he could not refuse, why didn’t he stuck to the bridge-building approach he seems to be pursuing in the immigration debate?

His response to Obama’s richly ideological and triumphal speech seemed anchored in the very same Alice in Wonderland-era of simplistic dogmas that are driving his party towards oblivion and led a former president to say “read my lips: no more taxes” a few years ago. The very same past president who, when first confronted with the set of ideas and economic policies that he later helped implement and which has led us to the financial and moral debacle of this past decade, presciently described them as “voodoo economics” — talk about jinxes.

Still, I cannot think of any politician who would not gladly exchange his playing cards for the ones Marco Rubio holds in his hands today, even after the speech. And if the bright young senator and his advisors are quick on their feet — as tweeting a picture of the now famous water bottle right after the thirsty incident shows they are — they will realize that speaking on behalf of a party that holds on to unsustainable dogmas like, for instance, the proclaimed constitutional right to sell any and all kinds of weapons to people who we know nothing about, is not what will get them to where they want to be. They will realize it is not a new round of deregulation measures and cuts in social services that the voters in the US want. And that Horatio Alger stories, good as they may be, are no substitute for policies that transcend what many see as failed economic dogmas and effectively address the reality those voters face in their daily lives.

My guess is where Rubio and his team want to be is at the crest of the wave of Hispanic or Latino voters that is changing politics in the US. And to get there, they need to realize that the kind of vagaries Marco Rubio talked about in his rebuttal speech on behalf of an old and tired Republican Party is not exactly what that emerging voting force would call its cup of tea.

Which brings me to yet another jinx, especially dangerous amidst that Hispanic voting block all US politicians want to reach: the Cuban jinx.

Being a “Cubargie” (Editor: a breed of Cuban and Argentine, Mr “Cubargie Joe” Pallí was born in Cuba and educated in Argentina) living in the US puts me in a privileged perch from which to look at the way we Cubans interact with other Hispanics in the country, beyond South Florida.

Cubans in the US have a solid argument on behalf of their collective economic and political prowess when compared with Hispanics of other national origins. Cubans have also been blessed by the privileged — even if justified, in some people’s eyes — treatment they receive when they migrate to the US. Many other Latinos in the US often find in these two elements a reason not to identify Cubans in the US as fellow Hispanics.

And some of my fellow Cubans in the US make things even worse by bragging about our collective achievements while sticking to the growingly tenuous distinction between the reasons driving Cubans to leave the island and those that compel Mexicans to cross the border.

One way Marco Rubio can overcome this jinx so as to more effectively raise the Hispanic banner is to take a more flexible approach toward US-Cuban policy, a policy that over the many years it has been fruitlessly in place has helped erode US influence and leadership in Latin America.

Will Rubio be bold enough to change the tune we heard in his rebuttal speech and play his cards this way? Time will tell. But if he does, chances are he will, in four or eight years, become the first Hispanic president of the US, and a much better one at that.

José Manuel Pallí is a Cuban-born lawyer, originally trained in Argentina and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1985.

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