Marco Rubio’s problem

The GOP heap (after Scott Walker), © 2015 Susan Barsy

Marco Rubio’s problem?  He’s hasn’t done anything. Yes, he is skilled at talking and at winning elections, but he has a weak record of accomplishing.

Rubio is scrambling to be the GOP presidential candidate who benefits the most from Scott Walker’s dropping out of the race.  As I wrote the other day, a big factor for Republican hopefuls is where money and support drift as weaker candidates leave.  As they drop out, liberating resources, the market shares of the remaining candidates shift, reshaping the campaign.

Marco Rubio turned in a good performance at the debate.  Figures like David Brooks are talking him up.  Rubio has raised a lot of money.  He talks loudly about his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.  In the debate, he sought to impress by talking tough on foreign policy and trotting out his immigration plan.

Look closely, and you’ll notice that Rubio is an Obama-type candidate.  His career path is remarkably similar to the president’s, whom he despises.  A brief stay in the state legislature, then Senate election, and then  . . . (before youth fades) the presidency?  Rubio’s ambition is propelling him upward before he is ready.

Meanwhile, his lack of patience and success as a senator tells us what his presidential shortcomings would be.  Rubio wishes to leave the Senate without having figured out how to score legislative victories.  He hasn’t bothered to develop the relationships or negotiating skills that our interdependent style of government makes so necessary.  Being president would minister to Rubio’s self-image, but, when it comes to serving the nation, how effective could he be?

On immigration, for instance, Rubio is cogent because he once helped sponsor an ambitious bipartisan immigration-reform bill.  This was the impressive measure the Senate passed back in 2013.  At the time, the Huffington Post heralded it as “the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation’s inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.”

Republican senators proved powerless, however, to bring their more uncooperative House brethren along, so the initiative that Rubio and others had worked on died.  Now Rubio is touting his own reform plan that he asserts he could make a reality.  Given a president’s dependence on Congress, it’s doubtful he could make his claim come true.  Another young president who’s a weak party leader is the last thing this nation needs.

Yet Rubio is proud of his determination to quit the Senate in hopes of snagging the presidency.  Last week, he justified his failure to attend Senate by lashing out at a wrong-headed Washington establishment.  Though he hasn’t been able to alter that establishment as a Senator, he claims he can–if only Americans give him a bigger job.

Meanwhile, in the telling area of political endorsements, his fellow Floridan, Jeb Bush, continues to lead.  FiveThirtyEight ranks Bush at the top of the list in gaining the support of other established Republicans.  Rubio is near the bottom, indicating that Republican leaders view him much more skeptically than the media does.


Transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks on his absenteeism
(courtesy CNN):

RUBIO: . . .  I’m proud to serve in the United States Senate. You know, when I ran five years ago, the entire leadership of my party in Washington lined up against me.

But I’m glad I won. And I’m glad that I ran, because this country’s headed in the wrong direction.  And if we keep electing the same people, nothing is going to change.

And you’re right, I have missed some votes, and I’ll tell you why . . .  Because in my years in the Senate, I’ve figured out very quickly that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. in both political parties is completely out of touch with the lives of our people.

You have millions of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, and nothing is being done about it. We are about to leave our children with $18 trillion in — in — in debt, and they’re about to raise the debt limit again.

We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous, and we are eviscerating our military spending and signing deals with Iran. And these — if this thing continues, we are going to be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.

That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate, I’m not running for re-election, and I’m running for president because I know this: unless we have the right president, we cannot make America fulfill its potential, but with the right person in office, the 21st century can be the greatest era that our nation has ever known.

Betsy Ross of the Capitol

A woman mends the American flag in a back room of the Capitol
“Washington, D.C.  Mrs. Georgeieanna Higgins.  Official title is Seamstress to the United States Senate, but for years has been called the ‘Betsy Ross of the Capitol.’  She is responsible for keeping the flag that flies over the Senate wing of the Capitol in proper flapping order.  This is no mean job since the flag flies night and day when the Senate is in session, which means a terrific beating from the elements, an average of 12 Flags is used each session”  (March 2, 1937)


Image:
from this source
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Once Noble Senate

The US senate chamber in 1868 (Courtesy of Cornell University Library via the Commons on Flickr)

I don’t know that what I write here makes me a pundit, but in the wake of the election I have been hit with a strong urge to refrain from punditry—to take a break from it, at least, and let government be.

One of the evils of an excessively long campaign season is that we all develop the habit of opinionating and editorializing.  Our partisan passions, aroused for such a long period, require an effort to quiet, and we forget that there is something larger than the fate of the parties or particular people, namely our collective fate as a nation and economy.  That hangs in the balance now.

The media, even more than our political leaders, bear responsibility for having created a public culture that prizes the work of governing less than politicking.  Competent governing is not praised and celebrated; it is not longed for; it is not revered or nurtured.  No, it is regarded skeptically—poked at and doubted.  Dubious motives are assigned; obstacles exaggerated; worst-case scenarios dreamt up and embroidered.

Would the nation would better or worse off for having a moratorium on loose talk, during which all cable networks, talk shows, and editorial rooms would go dark for a few days?  The talking heads, eager for their fees and salaries, who incessantly press their stale points of view on the rest of us are one of the biggest impediments to redirection and innovation.  They are themselves one of the biggest drags on bipartisanship and governmental resolve.

The hullabaloo surrounding the “fiscal cliff” reminds me that the Senate, in its earliest days, used to meet in private.  That’s right.  From 1789 to 1794, the first senators met privately in chambers in New York and later Philadelphia (Washington DC didn’t exist then) to fulfill their Constitutional duties as they understood them, admitting no spectators, seeking no publicity.  They simply did their work and went away.

This was a perfectly legitimate style of proceeding.  After all, they had been entrusted with large public responsibilities and they knew the nation depended on their behaving in an honorable way.

The senators soon abandoned the custom of meeting in private, however, because they thought that, unless the public could look in on the Senate and begin to understand what it was all about, the body would never develop the authority and prestige that the Founders wanted and expected it to enjoy.   The early Senate was in danger of being eclipsed in importance by the House, which then, as now, was a more unruly and irresponsible body.

The Senate, intended to be the ultimate forum for resolving the nation’s most complex problems, evolved into a highly prestigious and effective body during the long period from the early 1800s until 1986, when the Senate approved live televised coverage of its proceedings.  The reservations that had made senior senators reluctant to embrace such a change were fully vindicated, for the reorientation of the Senate toward this vicarious presence has destroyed the close-knit mutuality that characterized the body, and which rewarded the difficult work of its members with commensurate prestige.

The nation’s chief executive, once the factotum of his party in Congress, has become inflated in importance proportionately.  Today, we look to the president for all things—even for the wisdom that our Founders knew could only be found collectively, in the best minds of the Senate, in its palmiest days.

Image from this source.