Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An American Son by Marco Rubio (Book Review #17 of 2016)

An American Son: A Memoir
Ultimately, this is a one-and-a-half star book. It is terribly boring, uninformative, and could be much shorter if Rubio had left out many of the trivial details about boyhood clothes, football games, his grandparents' and parents' lives, and other aspects of his life growing up. You think there will be some point to the details he remembers, but there is not; it is like reading from an ordinary average Joe's daily journal. We don't need to know about every odd job his grandfather had or every nick and scrape Rubio gets on the football field. What we do need to know is what drives Rubio and shapes his worldview, and preferably what principles he follows in his "conservative" politics. While the book outlines every decision Rubio made in his political life and campaigns, he rarely explains why he made those decisions. The only book he mentions as helpful in his political life is Jim Collins' Good to Great, which helped how he and others put together the House leadership team when he was Speaker of the House in Florida. What drives his economic, political, or even parenting philosophies otherwise is a complete unknown.

The book becomes slightly more exciting during his Senate campaign against failed Governor Charlie Crist, truly a unique election in that Crist was willing to change all his positions and even to switch parties (despite pledging not to) just to get elected. The Crist-Rubio campaign should be studied more, and Rubio's side of the story is worth hearing. The National Republican Senatorial Committee backed Crist and pushed Florida's Republicans to back Crist officially-- even pushing a Rule 11 letter (p. 220). Hence, the establishment looked stupid when Crist openly courted liberal votes and ran as an independent when it eventually became clear he would not be the Republican nominee. One thing I did not know was that Donald Trump (along with Arnold Schwarzenegger) was among those who urged Crist to run against Rubio as an independent (p. 287). That should be a note to those who think Donald Trump is a conservative today.

But it contains so much detail and repetition, so much reliving the rebuttles of Crist staff and the media, his family's thoughts, and more and it goes on forever in mundane detail. Much of Rubio's writing deals with his rebuttles against charges leveled by the media in 2010-- misspending funds, a foreclosed house, potential pork-laden deals, etc. What is sad is that this book was published in 2012 and, in my opinion, Rubio's facts rebut his critics well, but the New York Times and other publications regurgitated the claims in 2015.  For example, the New York Times was credited with "revealing" Rubio's financial troubles and ties to donor Norman Braman, who employs Rubio's wife. But Rubio details all of this in the book and it was covered by the Florida media for all of 2010. The fact that so many media outlets have regurgitated the NY Times' reporting as original, when the reporters are either regurgitating this book without citation or the work of plenty of Florida newspapers in 2010, is rather eye-opening. Rubio explains in detail, repeatedly, every credit card transaction ever made and why. Perhaps, however, his ties with Braman are not sufficiently disclosed-- the NY Times reported that Rubio's teaching position at Florida International, which he held long before the Senate race, was funded by Braman; if true, this is never mentioned by Rubio. But Rubio himself detailed what his wife has done working for Braman in 2011-2012 more than the NY Times did in its reporting. Nobody reads books anymore, I suppose.

Besides chronicling the 2010 campaign, is there redeeming value? Yes. You will learn how much Marco Rubio loves his family and how open he is about his love for Jesus. His insecurity and efforts to "get the balance right between my career and personal life" and also live up to the standards of effort and sacrifice of his parents and grandparents stand out (p. 13).
"Why had my dreams come true? Because God had blessed me with a strong and stable family and parents who cherished my dreams more than their own, and with a wise and loving wife who supported me" (p. 332).
"And last but most important, I thank my Lord, Jesus Christ, whose willingness to suffer and die for my sins will allow me to enjoy eternal life" (p. 358).

Even a cynic would likely see his faith is not fake, the guy has been interested in theology since going from Catholicism to Mormonism and back to Catholicism. He closed out his stint in the Florida House with a speech outlining the basics of the Gospel. His family apparently current blends his wife and kids' preference of an evangelical Baptist church and Catholic Mass; his kids are currently in parochial school. He writes that the Bible-based sermons at the Baptist church on Saturday nights gives greater meaning to his understanding of the Catholic faith on Sundays. The writings of Scott Hahn, a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism influenced him (p. 164) . (That and the Collins book are the only two I remember him mentioning.)

The greater disappointment is that there is almost nothing in there about how he managed his campaign staff, tough issues and decisions he made in the Florida legislature, or what, if any, specific political philosophies have shaped his worldview. What does "conservative" mean to him? At one point he mentions "limited government and free markets" but the book, like the 2016 Republican primary generally, seems to assume that people know what defines "conservative" when candidates say it. Rubio speaks highly of Jeb Bush, borrowing from him by collecting ideas from around the state to propose as legislative initiatives. Rubio's House has to battle the Florida Senate that either want weaker or less-effective legislation; one particular story about autism legislation that Rubio wanted to expand to all children with disabilities was particularly interesting (p. 194). Rubio does give a careful look at immigration reform and why he did not support the DREAM Act in Congress; he wanted less-broad legislation that might be more effective, he writes. Where he stands on other key issues is woefully unclear, as are his campaign pledges in all his campaigns which are never mentioned.

I was planning on reading Rubio's second book supposedly outlining his economic policies but he has since dropped out. I say skip this book as well if you can.

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