Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Rubio is young, but he clings to the past

Sen. Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for President of the United States at the Freedom Tower on Monday, April 13, 2015.
Sen. Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for President of the United States at the Freedom Tower on Monday, April 13, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

It could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been a proud moment for all Cuban-Americans to see a Miami son make a bid for the U.S. presidency.

After all, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio certainly pulled at the heart strings using the historic Freedom Tower where Cuban refugees were processed during the Freedom Flights as the backdrop to his prime news hour announcement Monday night.

But in his ambitious quest to win Anglo conservative voters in Middle America, Rubio chose — and charted again in his presidential campaign speech — a political path that put him at odds with the uniqueness and progressiveness of contemporary South Florida.

It’s not that he’s a Republican, it’s that Rubio is an ultra conservative Republican who rose to power by embracing tea party right-wing ideology with evangelic eagerness. As we say in English and Spanish, he’s become more papist than the pope. Only his Texan counterpart and rival for the GOP nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz, is more extremist in his views. They’re both bad choices for the Republican Party if winning the presidency in a demographically changing country is what they seek.

At 43, Rubio may be the youngest candidate in the field age-wise, but his platform and ideas are old and regressive.

A climate-change denier, this would-be world leader didn’t even mention one of the most important issues facing communities across the globe — and drowning his own. But he didn’t hesitate to bring up the paternalist issue that for scores of women disqualifies him from being a good candidate for any office, much less the presidency: women’s rights to make decisions about their reproductive health.

We didn’t wage battles against sexism throughout our lives to endorse Republican troglodytes like Rubio who won’t leave alone the historic Roe vs. Wade decision, and will, if elected president, get to appoint like-minded federal judges.

Rubio claims that he’s the youthful alternative and that in the case of other candidates, “too many of their ideas are stuck in the 20th century,” but he’s the one clinging to the past.

On foreign policy, he’s a throwback to the hawkish Bush-Cheney years that, instead of fostering peace in the Middle East, brought us a never-ending war that almost bankrupted this country, has cost thousands of American lives, and spun out a new terrorist group, ISIS.

He’s a throwback to a time when women and African Americans had to fight for their rights, their dignity, and the “opportunity” that, according to Rubio, everyone has experienced in exceptional America for the last two centuries. He forgot that blacks had to wage quite a fight in the 1960s to win the right to be treated as human beings. How regretful and embarrassing that his only mention of African Americans was about their nation-building contributions as “former slaves.”

Rubio might have been trying to conjure the spirit of beloved Republican Abraham Lincoln, assassinated 150 years ago Tuesday, but his message fell flat.

A presidential candidacy is made of more than feel-good cliches that tap into the insecurities and nostalgia of proud Americans. It’ll take more than being a conservative Republican version of his nemesis, President Barack Obama, who rose from a junior senatorial seat to the presidency, and whose footsteps to the White House Rubio is ironically following. Voters were willing to take a chance on the young senator from Illinois because he offered progressive ideas and change from the status quo in Washington.

Obama won with overwhelming support from African Americans who came out in unprecedented numbers to vote — something Rubio won’t be able to replicate with Latinos, who feel betrayed on immigration issues.

When he caved to the conservative Anglo voters and abandoned immigration reform, Rubio lost the future.

He might have had a shot had he used his influence and championed immigration reform, becoming the “Republican Savior” that Time magazine anointed too early. But instead he chose to blast and threaten to torpedo the president’s efforts to provide some relief via executive order to the meritorious DREAMer children and their families by withholding any federal funding.

Obama won the presidency by consolidating the same coalition of people who would not vote for Rubio. His candidacy is bad for the environment, bad for women, bad for gays, and offers nothing to African Americans and Latinos.

Judging from his record and his speech, there’s nothing fresh or new about Marco Rubio — only old-fashioned rhetoric and macho-man Republican values for a 21st century platform.

But perhaps what speaks louder about Rubio’s gaps is his miscasting of what the Freedom Tower means to Cuban-Americans.

It’s not, as he said in his speech, “a symbol of opportunity.”

For those of us who walked through its halls as political exiles, it’s a beacon of refuge, a landmark of a time when America welcomed us with open arms and legal status.

It’s not our Wall Street, but our Ellis Island.