The Two Faces of Marco Rubio

Posted: May 06, 2013 12:01 AM

Most theories on political tension include expressions of degrees on a scale.  Terms like left wing and right wing can prove useful for categorizing the positions staked out on a particular civic matter.  But political spectra seem inadequate for describing the acrimony that frequently arises within the common bonds of a political party.

The Republicans currently suffer this condition.  Losing to the most liberal and aggressive president in history twice in a row, coupled with having to work from the minority position in the U.S. Senate has exposed some stress fractures within the party.  The phenomenon can be observed in the unfolding of the very public reckoning by the GOP’s brightest rising star, Senator Marco Rubio.

Rubio signed on as a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight” – a group of eight senators who are wrestling to craft a compromise immigration reform bill.  Tea Party constituents and traditional conservatives are looking to the young senator from Florida to provide a fresh perspective while standing firm on conservative principles.  But in negotiating behind the solid oak doors with fellow members like old guard John McCain and ne’er-do-well Chuck Schumer, it is easy for a freshman like Rubio to get rolled.

Speculations are sparking in every direction regarding Marco Rubio, who appears to be the archetype of what Republicans dream of in a future presidential hopeful.  He is conservative, articulate, inspiring and Hispanic.  Will he add unforeseen wisdom to the immigration challenge, or cave in to a career stubbing, liberal compromise?

I recently heard a new and compelling perspective on these intra-party contentions over a bottle of Napa Valley’s finest.  One of my confidants stated that there are two kinds of political people; philosophical and professional.  This proposed model is independent of Republican / Democrat, left / right, or conservative / liberal.

In this hypothesis, the philosophical actors are those who believe that public policy is the appropriate avenue to advance their civil passions.  And the professionals are those whose priority is to remain in power.  It is an interesting tension, because these two motivations are contrasting, but not opposites.

This theory explains several mysteries of political behavior.  The activist who is motivated by philosophy does not first think of strategy, tactics, and the ruthlessness required to win elections.  They focus on principle, like the defense of liberties.

The professional pursues the win, under the political banner where they feel most comfortable.  And rather than philosophy, they think messaging, based on polling.  The professional is more likely to be the one in control of the party or the elected office because they are better at the mechanics.  They are also likely to frustrate the philosopher in their willingness to compromise principle toward meeting their primary goal of winning an election.

Each is a necessary component of the other.  Of course, the optimum is a combination of both; a professional who is philosophically committed.  Optimal and rare.

Marco Rubio began as the philosophical actor, inspired by his own immigrant family’s recent history and the promise of America.  His performance in this most visible of intellectual battles will determine his political trajectory.  And with McCain at one shoulder and Schumer at the other, he will need to find supernatural resolve to address the disharmony between philosophical standards and the pressures of compromise.

The classic force majeure is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We have certainly seen enough of the pure professionals who only see founding principles as bothersome considerations toward gaining and keeping positions of authority.

One of two Marco Rubios will emerge from the Gang of Eight negotiations; a principled champion standing too tall for the elder senators to put an arm around his shoulder, or a tame progeny standing behind Chuck Schumer’s Cheshire cat grin.  I hope for startling integrity to emerge from Senator Rubio in this very public test.  The emerging Republican leadership from him and fellow Republican legislators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan could form the cavalry that we have been looking for.