Several years ago, there was a publishing house that failed to recognize the potential of a certain, young cross-cultural politician in Illinois.
The rights to “Dreams from My Father” were sold to another imprint for pocket change. Once Barack Obama decided to run for president, someone made a lot of money.
But it wasn’t the company that paid Obama to write his autobiography.
Now, another cross-cultural politician has written another memoir. This time, the publisher knows a long-term investment when it sees one. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrived in Gwinnett County for his book-signing last week with a team of roadies and his own bus, with his face plastered on the side.
And this is a man who’s only getting mentions for vice president?
But seriously, it was significant that, on Thursday, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty were in Ohio, doing battle with President Barack Obama and his re-election bus tour, 41-year-old Rubio was at Books-A-Million, engaging in a little free enterprise by selling copies of his memoir, “An American Son.” (Penguin Group, $26.95)
Rubio’s defeat of former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010, by chasing him out of the Florida Republican primary then burying him in the general election, was the first major eruption of tea party clout in GOP ranks. That the Miami-born son of Cuban émigrés brings something different to the table was evident from the hundreds of people who lined the walls of the bookstore, patiently waiting.
Young men in shirts stenciled with “An American Son — 2012 National Book Tour” hustled fans through at the rate of six a minute – a pace that was efficient, but not rude. Many of those in line were Republican regulars. State Sen. Don Balfour of Snellville waited with five books opened and ready for Rubio’s pen.
“He’s an American dream,” the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee said.
But “Where are you from — originally?” was a crucial part of Rubio’s patter. The Florida senator drew a significant number of Spanish-speakers who normally wouldn’t be seen at a Republican event in Georgia. It is this connection to Latinos – and perhaps his confession that he considers hip-hop “a guilty pleasure” — that makes Rubio so valuable to Republicans looking down the road.
Last month, as his book tour began, a TV news network declared that Rubio was not being asked to provide the documents that would indicate he was among those being vetted as a potential running mate for Republican Mitt Romney.
The Romney campaign decreed this to be untrue. Rubio himself has declared the topic off limits. But there are clues – in Rubio’s book, in a quick interview that preceded his visit to Gwinnett County, and in the general climate – that would lead one to bet that he won’t be paired with Romney on that stage in Tampa.
First, the climate: For the better part of a year, Rubio had worked in the U.S. Senate on his version of the Dream Act, an effort to legitimize the presence of young people brought here by their illegal immigrant parents. Obama’s decision last month to enact the Dream Act by executive order – which Rubio declares to be “too broad” — undercut any effort the Florida senator might make this year.
Yet when it comes to illegal immigration, Rubio has placed himself squarely at the crossroads of Republican thinking. “On the one hand, these are human beings we’re talking about. These are people – many of whom are desperate to provide their families a better life,” Rubio said last week. “On the other hand, a million people immigrate legally, permanently every year to the U.S. Our message to them can’t be, come here illegally because it’s cheaper and quicker.”
Romney took a hard line on illegal immigration during the primaries. Rubio is aimed at a judicious compromise and negotiation. Were Romney to choose Rubio as a running mate, any daylight between the two men on the issue could pose a serious problem.
Then there’s “An American Son.” As campaign biographies go, it’s not a bad read. Like Obama’s autobiography, Rubio devotes much of his book to his immigrant family’s history, and the ability he develops to negotiate among white, Hispanic and African-American worlds.
Rubio also writes about his religious journey – from Catholic in Miami to Mormon in Las Vegas then back to Catholicism, with a touch of Southern Baptist thrown in for good measure.
Rubio is generous toward the Church of Latter Day Saints and its emphasis on family values, but he allows one uncomfortable criticism to be uttered through his beloved grandfather, who attended a single service: “He told me he would never go back because he hadn’t seen a single African American in attendance.”
Six or so years ago, as Obama – like Rubio, then a two-year veteran of the U.S. Senate – was pondering whether to make a White House run, Senate Democrats urged him on. The longer a potential candidate stays in Congress, the less viable he is, they told him.
I asked Rubio if he felt the same. He said no. “The Senate is a platform to speak out against things you think are wrong, and defend things that you think are right,” Rubio said. “My focus has been to be the best U.S. senator I can be. If I can do that, then I will have opportunity to do things in the future – and maybe outside of politics.”
Which sounds like a man ready to make a long-term investment in himself.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider