Senate candidate Marco Rubio solidified his place as a rising star of the Republican party Thursday with a fiery keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that included an emotional invocation of his immigrant parents’ struggles.
The 38-year-old son of Cuban exiles repeatedly referenced his humble beginnings and framed his rapid ascent as only possibly in America, similar to the rhetoric used by Barack Obama on the presidential campaign trial. Rubio invoked the theme of American exceptionalism and argued the Democrats are trying to remove those things that distinguish the United States from the rest of the world.
“Leaders at the highest levels of our government are undertaking a deliberate and systematic effort to redefine our government, our economy and our country,” Rubio said before claiming the American people have responded by “taking matters into their own hands.” “From Tea Parties to the election in Massachusetts, we are witnessing the single greatest political pushback in American history.”
Appearing relaxed and confident, Rubio called the 2010 midterms a “referendum on the very identity of our nation” and said the issues are of such great consequence that the old rules of political engagement would no longer apply. He bashed the political class and mainstream media as more out of touch with the American people than ever before and threw in some humor, including a jab at recent GOP defector Arlen Specter.
“The people want leaders who will come here to Washington, D.C., and stand up to the big government agenda, not be co-opted by it. After all, the U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many.”
On the policy front Rubio called for across-the-board tax cuts along with a simplification of the tax code and elimination of taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest and death. He voiced his opposition to cap and trade and called for tort reform and “a series of simple changes that would put the consumer in charge of health-care spending in America.”
The former speaker of the Florida State House also vowed to bring terrorists to justice “in a military tribunal in Guantanamo, not a civilian courtroom in Manhattan,” which drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
Rubio saved his best for last, ending with a plea for the preservation of America’s free-enterprise economy and arguing that the Democrats are attempting to increase the government’s role in economy so it more closely resembles the rest of the world.
“Americans chose a free-enterprise system designed to provide equality of opportunity, not compel equality of results … That’s why this is the only country in the world where’s today’s employee is tomorrow’s employer,” Rubio said. “And yet, there are still people in American politics who for some reason cling to this belief that America is better off adopting economic policies of nations whose people immigrate here from there.”
Rubio said such people could believe whatever they want, but that he does not have that option. “I’m one generation removed from a very different life,” he said, before detailing the struggles of his father, who was a bartender, and his mother, a maid, factory worker and K-Mart stocker. “Both of my parents worked jobs so their kids could have careers. And their lives were never easy”
“I was raised by exiles. By people who know what it is like to lose their country, by people who have a unique perspective on why elections matter, or lack thereof. By people who clearly understand how different America is from the rest of the world.”
He closed by explaining how his parents were never given the opportunity to pursue their dreams in their country, so they instead came to America and dedicated their lives to giving their children more opportunity.
“So now I know that every chance I’ve ever had, everything that I will ever accomplish, I owe to God, to my parents’ sacrifices and to the United States of America,” Rubio said to thunderous applause. “My parents never achieved wealth or influence, but their hard work opened doors for their children that had been closed to them. So to me their story is the very essence of the American miracle. It is a story that is rare in the world, and yet it is common here.”