Don’t let the calendar fool you. It’s already 2016.
Like it or not, the Elections Industrial Complex has unofficially declared it so.
We are in a state of constant campaigns brought to you by the political-consultant class, polarizing bloggers, cable TV personalities, political reporters and the ubiquitous partisan trolls who patrol Twitter in search of the latest outrage.
And they’re eying and arguing nonstop over people like Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator.
In the week leading up to and including Election Day, Rubio garnered about 304 media mentions, according to a news-clip search in the Nexis database. In the week after: 780 mentions – a 160 percent increase.
It won’t let up. Rubio will be a key surrogate in the mid-term elections in 2014 and he’ll play a major role in the next presidential election.
The first wave of post-election Rubio-related stories was fairly predictable, premised on the whither-the-GOP storyline after President Barack Obama won a second term. As the most high-profile Hispanic Republican, Rubio was indispensible to a narrative about attracting minority support. His name was repeatedly mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful.
It didn’t hurt that Rubio, 11 days after the election, attended a birthday fundraiser for the governor of Iowa, site of the first GOP presidential caucuses four years hence.
Rubio actually accepted the invitation months before, during the Republican National Convention in Tampa. He expected Mitt Romney would actually have won the presidential contest Nov. 6, so Rubio’s attendance in Iowa wouldn’t have looked like a premature bid for national office.
This context got nary a mention in the Elections Industrial Complex. It didn’t fit the narrative. So it was discarded or never pondered by some. The Elections Industrial Complex thrives off conflict, contradictions and gaffes. It minimizes similarity and nuance in the cracked looking glass of our politics.
And Rubio has happily obliged.
On Nov. 19, GQ Magazine published an interview with Rubio in which he gave a rambling answer to an out-of-the-blue question about the age of the Earth:
“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
The comment exploded like a Rorschach ink-blot. Partisans saw what they wanted.
To the left, it was evidence that Rubio’s a knuckle-dragging fundamentalist or a panderer to them. To the right, the ensuing controversy was evidence of the Godlessness of the left.
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The breadth and passion of the reactions are more evidence that, in the maw of the Elections Industrial Complex, Rubio is the Republican answer to Obama. They’re both great speakers. They came to prominence as fresh-faced minority senators. They inspire irrational zeal among their supporters and derangement among their opponents. (Rubio was even targeted by the birther movement that says neither he nor Obama is a natural-born citizen.)
Obama and Rubio also seem to share similar views on the creation of the Earth, which Slate.com pointed out recently. Here’s Barack Obama at a CNN-hosted “Compassion Forum” on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania in April 2008:
“I believe that God created the universe. And that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it. It may not be 24-hour days. And that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and that I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live — that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.”
This received virtually no press at the time, according to a Nexis search. Instead, Obama was reeling from his own gaffe in which he described “bitter” voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who are not like them.”
The “guns or religion” comments received more attention back then because some wanted to frame Obama as an out-of-touch elitist. Obama also did a better job than Rubio of explaining how he views science and religion.
In contrast, Rubio seemed to gleefully stoke the coals of speculation by taking to Twitter and playing up other comments in GQ where he sort of dissed the rapper Pitbull.
Rubio just had to explain how he felt about Mr. 305. The Earth’s creation about 4.5 billion years ago could wait. This was Rubio feeding the Elections Industrial Complex. And why not? It has been good to him, furnishing him incessant attention and therefore political power.
For the record, in the decade we’ve covered the West Miami resident, Rubio has never sounded or really acted like a religious fundamentalist. But he is deeply conservative in many of his religious beliefs and he has voiced support for a modified type of Creationism, known as Intelligent Design.
As Florida House Speaker in 2008, Rubio passively supported an Intelligent Design-related bill, but allowed it to die in his chamber. He spent no political capital on it. And he didn’t suggest then that the Earth was only a few thousand years old or that this was subject to scientific dispute.
None of that was mentioned by the liberals intent on making Rubio into a right-wing nutcase this month.
But in defending Marco the Martyr, conservatives also missed out. None mentioned that, when Rubio wondered about the Earth being created in “7 days,” he got the number wrong by a full day (God rested on the seventh day, so the Earth was created in six).
And who got that biblical fact right? None other than that fundamentalist Bible-thumper: Barack Obama.