the national interest

Marco Rubio’s Recurring Obama Nightmare

CORAL GABLES, FL - NOVEMBER 02: Republican nominee for Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio delivers a speech during his
Perhaps this haunting dream of yours tells us less about Obama than about you. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Recently, Republican Senator and future Presidential Timber Marco Rubio compared a speech by President Obama to that of a “left-wing 3rd world leader.” It’s not the first time Rubio has drawn upon the comparison. Last year, he described an Obama speech advocating the cloture of a small number of upper-bracket tax deductions as “the kind of language you’d expect from the leader of a Third World Country.” At other times, he’s called Obama’s arguments “more appropriate for some left-wing strong man than for the president of the United States.”

It is no longer terribly newsworthy for even the most respectable Republicans to equate Obama’s policies with dictatorships. But Rubio appears to be fixated on a particular kind of dictator, the Third World strongman. What could explain this odd fixation?

Rubio’s parents, of course, emigrated from Cuba. His father first left in the waning days of the Batista regime, but some members of his family returned and then fled when Fidel Castro took power. Rubio inaccurately represented his family as having fled Castro, but in his defense, it seems likely that he grew up believing the rise of Castro precipitated their arrival in America, or at least the revolution loomed large in their story of how they could never return to their homeland. “They wanted to live in Cuba again,” Rubio has said of his parents, “They tried to live in Cuba again, and the reality of what it was made that impossible.”

Cuban émigré politics famously lean right, but there seems to be more going on in Rubio’s heated imagination than standard anti-communism. The former colonies of Spain and Portugal traditionally feature massive disparities of wealth, which in turn create a poisonous dynamic in which elites cling ferociously to their wealth, while pro-redistribution politics often take the form of crude or even violent populism. The U.S. is not as unequal as Latin America, but the gap between us is shrinking, and conservative politics in the United States have increasingly given off more than a whiff of the panicked fear of the grasping mob that would be familiar in Batista’s Cuba or any other economically stratified former Spanish colony.

That political style, automatically equating any pro-egalitarian politics, however mild, has become Rubio’s hallmark. In 2010, Obama proposed a fee to make large financial institutions repay the federal government for a portion of their TARP bailout (here’s an endorsement by Marxist guerrilla Brookings Institution fellow Douglass Elliott). Rubio opposed the fee, a position that drew criticism from liberals. Rubio seemed to view the mere existence of disagreement as an outrage, writing in National Review:

Earlier this week, I spoke out against President Obama’s wrongheaded decision to place an onerous and punitive new tax on the financial institutions Americans rely on to loan them money to buy homes, safeguard their money, and fund their businesses. Since then, I have been subjected to vicious attacks from Democratic party operatives, liberal bloggers, and even some in the media….

This is life in Obama, Reid, and Pelosi’s America, where not only is free enterprise attacked, but so too is anyone who dares to defend it.

It is actually fascinating that Rubio equates the mere existence of criticism from political commentators and the opposing party as a dangerous and frightening development. He may not advocate any policy agenda of suppressing dissent, but he clearly envisions an ideal place where he can defend the interests of his country’s wealthiest industry without incurring any bothersome opposition (or “vicious attacks”). Rubio defines this nirvana of yore as “America,” but the panic it represents is more rooted in the political culture of Latin American oligarchy.

Marco Rubio’s Recurring Obama Nightmare