Rubio No Savior, But Full of Common Sense

Kathryn Lopez

8/6/2011 12:01:00 AM - Kathryn Lopez

This was going to be a column insisting that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida run for president of the United States. Now. Even though he has ruled out the possibility; even though he is but a baby senator. (Neither of these considerations has invariably stopped people in the past.)

But no: That's not this column. Not because I don't think it might be an excellent idea, but because I take a man at his word. He has a young family that has already endured a long and brutal campaign. And I'm actually not a fan of leaping from two minutes in the Senate to a potential presidency. As one seasoned political pro puts it: "We don't do ourselves or our future leaders any favors by rushing the wine before its time. Reagan would not have been nearly as good a president had he won in '68 or '76 as he was in '80, having been tempered by failure and steeled by defeat and adversity."

Marco Rubio isn't a savior; no one is. I get nervous when we act like any one politician or celebrity or hero is something more than he or she is. Rubio is a great freshman senator, who has not walked into the chamber preening like a rock star, as his detractors have claimed. He waited until June, in fact, to give his first speech on the Senate floor. He hasn't seemed to be poisoned by his press clips.

So I will leave the "Draft Rubio" efforts to others. But you don't have to draft him to notice that when Rubio speaks, people listen. He brings to the Senate floor the frustration, impatience and concern for the future of our country that fueled the tea-party movement that brought him, among others, to Washington this past January. He does so with a seeming ease, clarifying the issues.

After speaking to the Senate during the last Saturday in July, the Florida freshman gained 14 approval points, according to a Quinnipiac poll of his state's voters.

This impressive surge was due to a single Saturday speech on the debt-ceiling debate in Washington.

In his remarks, Rubio blasted "compromise that's not a solution" as a "waste of time." He said: "If my house was on fire, I can't compromise about which part of the house I'm going to save. You save the whole house or it will all burn down. We either save this country or we do not. And to save it, we must seek solutions."

He said, before voting against the debt-ceiling deal, that "Americans are looking at Washington with anger, disgust, and concern that maybe America's problems are just too big for our leaders to solve."

Later that afternoon, he offered some closing thoughts, laying out the competing worldviews that rule Washington. And, as if reminding voters that you get the government you ask for, he noted that the divide wasn't a Washington creation, that it instead reflects a split in America about what government is for and should be about.

"We borrow $120 billion a month to pay our $300 billion-a-month bill," Rubio said. "And that's just too much money." Nothing to disagree with there.

And so we debate the role of government over and over again. Does it exist to provide economic justice or opportunity? Do we tax the rich more because they make more money than they need, or bring in more taxpayers?

And there may not always be a compromise; choices need to be made. "Ultimately, we may find that between these two points there may not be a middle ground," Rubio said.

I could go on. But you can listen yourself. Listen particularly to a conversation Rubio recently had with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the budget committee. Ryan is another rising politician who is getting nudged to run for president. Why? Because he wants to find solutions; because he knows of what he speaks and because he can communicate his convictions about making America an exceptional, prosperous place for posterity.

This is also the heart of Rubio's message: We face a "generational choice," and every citizen has the power in their vote to write the story of how we kept the American dream alive.