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Rich writes: "Rubio's new face was so garishly lit he looked like a jack-o'-lantern. His oleaginous delivery was that of an infomercial pitchman. And what was he selling, exactly, besides his own canned son-of-immigrants biography?" -Eric Benson

Marco Rubio was forced to stretch for the tiny bottle of Poland Spring. (photo: ABC News)
Marco Rubio was forced to stretch for the tiny bottle of Poland Spring. (photo: ABC News)

Rubio's Bad Infomercial Act Proves He's No Savior

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

19 February 13


Every week, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich talks with assistant editor Eric Benson about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week: the State of the Union address, Marco Rubio's watered-down rebuttal, and Pope Benedict's early departure.

n his State of the Union address, President Obama rolled out a strongly liberal second-term agenda that included raising the minimum wage, spending more on infrastructure, and enacting more stringent climate-change regulations. We've seen the president make big proposals to joint sessions of Congress before, some of which have become laws, many of which have not. What parts of this speech do you expect to become reality? Very few, as is usually the case with the focus-group-tested laundry lists enumerated by modern American presidents in this annual ritual. Besides, the divided Congress assures that much of what Obama wants is DOA. What was notable about his speech is that it reaffirmed the bolder, second-term Obama also present in his Inaugural address. And then there was that final, soaring passage in which the president argued that the families of Newtown and Aurora - not to mention Gabby Giffords, also sitting in the audience - "deserve a vote" on new gun legislation. While Obama may not get any such legislation through this Congress, he did hand a gun to the GOP to shoot itself with. If Republicans seem completely intransigent about guns - to the point of blocking even those few restrictions favored by the vast majority of the public post-Newtown - it's a political loser for them nearly everywhere except in the solid red states they already have locked down.

Marco Rubio's rebuttal to Obama's address seemed an effort to claim some part of the populist mantel for the Republicans. Not only did Rubio deliver the speech in both English and Spanish, but he talked up the fact that he grew up as a working-class kid and still lives the blue-collar neighborhood in which he grew up. What did you think of Rubio's speech? Rubio was there to "put a new face on the party" said David Gregory on NBC before his address. Rubio is the Republicans' "savior" according to this week's already dated Time cover. Well, so much for that. Rubio's new face was so garishly lit he looked like a jack-o'-lantern. His oleaginous delivery was that of an infomercial pitchman. And what was he selling, exactly, besides his own canned son-of-immigrants biography? (Even that has now been downsized to a flat generic spiel, since he was previously caught fictionalizing and hyping the circumstances of his parents' departure from Cuba.) Rubio didn't even try to broaden the GOP's appeal, his bilingual stunt notwithstanding. It was a lot of Obamacare, Solyndra, "job-killing" laws, small business blah blah blah - recycled 2012 GOP campaign talking points. (Only Benghazi was missing in action, no doubt through an oversight.) The speech also had a whiny, defensive tone ("I don't … want to protect the rich!") and took a shot at the legitimacy of climate change ("Our government can't control the weather"). These were stands that would appeal only to his party's own base, which probably wasn't even watching. It says all you need to know that no less an expert on State of the Union responses than Bobby Jindal declared afterwards that Rubio had done "a wonderful job."

And how do you think the speech set Rubio up for 2016? Care to comment on "water-gate"? Look, it could have been worse. Rubio could have reached for a bottle of Evian instead of Poland Spring. Then again, it also could have been better: If he had grabbed a bottle of beer, he might have made a dent in erasing the fun-free teetotaling Republican image left by the Romney campaign. Whatever, the moment was a bit of pure farce that sent a simple message: Amateur Night. As comedy, it may even have surpassed Michele Bachmann's looking-at-the-wrong-camera television address. But let's not get carried away. Rubio's clowning, sadly, didn't remotely rank with Albert Brooks's sweaty on-camera meltdown in Broadcast News or Ralph Kramden's hapless television appearance in the classic "Chef of the Future" episode of The Honeymooners. As for the ultimate political fallout, who knows? It's not as if the GOP is well stocked with plausible alternatives to take on Clinton or Biden in 2016. My favorite analysis of this question appeared in Politico, where a "general consensus" of Republican operatives declared that the incident would have "no little lingering impact" on Rubio's 2016 prospects. Not quite sure what that language means, but maybe it doesn't matter since many of these same operatives foresaw a Romney rout on our last Election Day.

Rand Paul delivered an alternative rebuttal, sponsored by the Tea Party Express. With Rubio, still something of a tea-party darling, delivering the GOP rebuttal, what did it mean to have Paul deliver his own speech? And now that the tea party has been so deeply absorbed by the GOP, does it serve any purpose as a stand-alone entity? Did anyone in America beyond the Paul family actually listen to this speech? I think the only way to receive it was by transmissions through the fillings in your teeth. In any event, I just read it so you don't have to. There are, it turns out, few differences between his speech and Rubio's - precisely because the Republican party is the tea party, which is indeed now superfluous as a stand-alone entity. And so what Paul's speech really was about was Paul; it was an ego trip by another first-term senator dreaming of the White House. His insistence on delivering it is just another indication of how little unity, and how much acrimony, there is in the GOP in the aftermath of its 2012 debacle. If you want to get a sense of the anger in its ranks, just listen to the hugely popular right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who is so enraged by what remains of the Republican Establishment that he recently ranted, "Who the hell died and made Karl Rove queen for a day?"

Benedict XVI shocked the world this week by becoming the first pope to resign since 1415. Both the Church and the papacy have diminished in geopolitical influence over the past two decades. Could you see a new pope becoming a major player on the international stage? No. There's no surer way to destroy a brand than to become synonymous with the rape of children. At least Penn State cleaned house, which the Vatican has yet to do. The only clear-cut result that will arrive with the selection of Benedict's successor is that it will free the New York Post to curtail its daily coverage of the paper's unofficial mascot, Timothy Dolan, and return to full-time Obama bashing. your social media marketing partner


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+68 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-02-19 09:39
Rubio reminds me of a male version of $arah Palen. Can the evil 1% villainiares, most certainly including the fossil fuel environment quashers, buy an Hispanic puppet whore to help with their chore of enslavement of all we the sheeple? Si, claro.
+39 # kelly 2013-02-19 10:37
They would have two who could run for national office but Cruz is actually from Canada. Look it up. One way or another they are all mindless fool who don't know their own interests. An Hispanic who is anti-immigratio n, a misogynistic woman and an alien accusing a man from the midwest of being un American.
+43 # reiverpacific 2013-02-19 11:03
Well, Hell -remember Bobby Jingle-bell's speech about being a "Son of immigrants" too?
It's the last refuge of the finks who turn against their own kind in the face of jumping in with the status-quo to be their token non-white. The only real bloc of Latinos to support the reactionary increasingly inept losers is the Miami based ex-Batista supporters and their hate-filled spawn, as there are a few blacks like "Uncle" Clarence Thomas and Ken Blackwell who barter their freedoms for gain and an illusion of power.
They can sugar-coat their eloquence all they like in the jingoistic language of the "Up by the bootstraps" mentality but it's all designed to fool the average Joe six-pak who watches the fick'rin' screen (but who still don't want them anyway) that they live in a democracy.
+33 # Barbara K 2013-02-19 12:07
What Rubio didn't mention was the fact that he has his house up for sale for $675,000. Now how many middle class people have a house of that value? Very few, if any, would be my guess. So this guy is not a middle class guy at all. He is nothing more than a Koch shill who is trying all they can to get control of this country for the wealthy Kochs who will end up owning us all.

+22 # fredboy 2013-02-19 13:50
Let's remember Rubio mislead Florida voters by claiming his parents fled Castro's Cuba. We later learned they immigrated from Batista's Cuba, and RETURNED to Cuba after Castro took over. Then, after a few years, they decided to again come--not flee--to the U.S. This guy just created a lie and squeezed it. His performance, like his every performance, was wretchedly phony--are Americans too stupid to see this? And the water bottle stunt was disgraceful--aw kward, sloppy, and even sissy. This guy does not belong in the Senate.
+14 # Vardoz 2013-02-19 15:04
These reps in congress are out to dismantle our govt, protections and laws at any cost to us. They are a ruthless, lying bunch who would sell their children for a buck. They are not fit to sit in the offices they hold and will inevitably land us into a deep depression. They took over the congress and is was a smart move for them. Now they can wage war on our govt an us with total immunity. The Dems failed us big time and I believe this was part of the bigger agenda to hand over our nation to the corportions on a silver platter as they destroy the New Deal. I asked my rep why there weren't groups challening the Tea Party demonstrations and they had nothing to say. The GOP has a diabolic agenda for us as they facilitate the big race to the bottom for the majority.
+20 # genierae 2013-02-19 16:57
I read that Pope Benedict was in charge of the sex abuse claims for twenty years and he did a great job of filing them away and forgetting about them. That means he allowed these child molesters to remain priests and continue to molest children. This is insane behavior, and these "Christians" who adore this lunatic need their heads examined. I hope the day comes soon when he has to face what he has done to those kids.
+6 # moby doug 2013-02-20 10:09
Not surprising behavior from a man who was in the Hitler Jugend during the Third Reich. When Cardinal Bernard Law had to step down in disgrace (for covering up child rapists) from the archdiocese of Boston, Benedict gave Law a cushy job in the Vatican. ....Once an arch-reactionar y, always an arch-reactionar y.
+26 # wrodwell 2013-02-19 17:58
We're told by Time Magazine that Marco Rubio is the Republican Party's newest Messiah. After watching parts of his speech - I can only tolerate looking at and listening to Republicans for about 5 minutes at a time - it was clear that Rubio is more of a "Rube" than the hoped for Messiah. If anyone wasn't ready for "prime time" it was he. Is this the promised Savior who'll sweep into office in 2016 on a great wave of Poland Spring water accompanied by the usual Republican lies, deceptions and unabashed whoring for the wealthy? Good luck.
As for Pope Ratzinger's abdication, it's true he's 85, but I can't help but think his involvement in the widespread child abuse scandal by Catholic priests also had a lot to do with it. As reported in the recent documentary film "Mea Maximo Culpa", child abuse in the Catholic Church dates back to about 300 AD. The film also showed that Ratzinger is an old school Catholic ideologue, and all reports of child abuse world-wide ended up on his desk before he became Pope. What was his way of dealing with accused child molester priests? They were sent to "retreats" ostensibly to get "reformed" through counseling and prayer sessions before turning them loose again on some other unsuspecting parish. So much for the efficacy of prayer and wishful thinking. Given that unsavory background, what better time for Pope Ratzinger to exit the scene?
Good riddance.
+19 # PABLO DIABLO 2013-02-19 21:11
Elizabeth Warren for President in 2016.
+18 # dovelane1 2013-02-19 23:46
Sometimes it seems as if we have this "Politically Correct" model put out before us that we are supposed to follow. That of not calling a spade a spade. That of not telling the truth, because, we are told, it might damage someone's self-image.

I keep wondering exactly who it is we are dealing with - kids or adults.

Most people are willing to tell the truth or admit to the part of the truth that makes them look good, or, at least, doesn't make them look bad. The part of the truth that saves their pride, but never the unflattering truth.

Let it be known Ratzinger is a coward. Let it be known that Rubio and Paul are also cowards.

Let it be known that anyone who uses a gun instead of words to resolve a conflict, is also a coward. They are half-people, looking for a way to feel whole, to not feel vulnerable.

Too many people with guns, and in power, have learned to define themselves as more than they are, because they are so afraid of seeing how much less they learned to believe they were to begin with.

If we can show this culture that it is the weak and cowardly who try to use power to control others, perhaps it will change the way we see the the 1%, and respond to them, as well as the way the 1% have come to see themselves, and the way they respond to those they think are beneath them.

Perhaps it is time we all learned to not be afraid of calling a spade a spade. My opinion at this point in time.
+8 # John Escher 2013-02-20 11:56
Very nice essay. More people should have approved it.
+1 # genierae 2013-02-22 13:07
I agree.

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