Freshman Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio delivered his maiden speech on the floor of the Senate yesterday and it was a speech all GOP presidential contenders should watch.
It was the best speech of the 2012 presidential cycle, except the person who delivered it has all but ruled himself off of the 2012 ticket on numerous occasions.
The GOP presidential field has been criticized for not having passion or conviction, and Rubio’s speech lit up the normally staid Senate chamber to the extent that this is possible. It had a clear argument, an emotional arc, personal tie-ins, and was delivered with conviction. Too often, even in the GOP, politicians talk about American exceptionalism as if it is an academic exercise.
Rubio owned it, his words personified it, and his speech was delivered in a way that led one who was watching to to think Rubio was humbled and still awed at America’s exceptional past and promise.
As Republicans learned in 2008, words and stories matter. It draws a public who does not get caught up in the drudgery of modern American politics in to care about the democratic process.
Add in the fact that Rubio is young and a minority, which are the two groups Republicans do most poorly with, and the speech and the messenger become even more dynamic, compelling, symbolic and important.
Rubio said he came “from a hard working and humble family” that “was neither wealthy nor connected,” but that he “grew up blessed in two important ways:” He had a strong and stable family and was born in America.
He realized that “America is not perfect” and “ti took a bloody civil war to free over 4 million African Americans who lived enslaved … and it would take another hundred years after that before they found true equality under the law.”
Rubio then movingly talked about how people who came to give their children a better life contributed to an “American miracle.”
He spoke of how a “16-year-old boy from Sweden, who spoke no English and had only five dollars in his pocket, was able to save and open a shoe store,” and “today, that store, Nordstrom is a multi-billion dollar global retail giant.”
He spoke of a “a young couple with no money and no business experience decided to start a toy business out of the garage of their home, and, “today, that company, Mattel, is one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers”
He spoke of the “French-born son of Iranian parents created a website called AuctionWeb in the living room of his home,” and, “today, that website now called eBay stands as a testament to the familiar phrase, ‘Only in America.'”
Rubio then talked movingly of the American dream and personified it by putting faces on the dream.
He said it was “story of the people who cleaned our office last night” who work hard so they can send their kids to college.”
He said it was “the story of the people who served your lunch today” who “work hard so that one day their children will have the chance to own a business.”
He said, in a reference to his father, the American Dream was also the “story of a bartender and a maid in Florida, whose son now serves here in this Senate, and who proudly gives his testimony as a firsthand witness of the greatness of this land.”
He then pivoted and said while “most great powers have used their strength to conquer other nations” America “is different” for America, “power also came with a sense that to those that much is given, much is expected.”
Rubio said that America’s greatness can be found anywhere in the world, “when someone uses a mobile phone, email, the Internet, or GPS” or “when a bone marrow, lung or heart transplant saves a life.”
Rubio then talked about how he “grew up in the 1980s, a time when it was morning in America” and that the 1980s, like the American century, faced challenges and triumphs but it was a “century where American political, economic and cultural exceptionalism made the world a more prosperous and peaceful place.”
He spoke of how the country is headed toward the wrong direct and that “we do stand now at a turning point in our history, one where there are only two ways forward for us. We will either bring on another American century, or we are doomed to witness America’s decline.”
Rubio said that since “every single one of us is the descendant of a go-getter,” “of dreamers and believers,” and “of men and women who took risk and made sacrifices because they wanted to leave their children better off than themselves” that “we are all the descendants of the men and women who built the nation that changed the world” whether “hey came here on the Mayflower, a slave ship, or on an airplane from Havana.”
Rubio then quoted John F. Kennedy about how America is the “watchmen on the walls of world freedom” and asked if America declined, “who will serve as living proof that liberty, security, and prosperity are all possible together,” or “lead the fight to confront and defeat radical Islam that “abuses and oppresses women, has no tolerance for other faiths and seeks to impose its views on the whole world,” or stand up for children who “are used as soldiers and trafficked as slaves?”
Rubio asked, if America declines, “who will create the innovations of the 21st century?”
He answered that nobody will because “there is still no nation or institution in the world willing or able to do what we have done.”
“Now, some say that we can no longer afford the price we must pay to keep America’s light shining,” Rubio said. “Others say that there are new shining cities that will soon replace us.”
“I say they are both wrong,” Rubio emphatically said because the world “still needs America,” “still needs our light,” and “still needs another American century” and “with God’s help, that will be our legacy to our children and to the world.”