By John Stang
On Friday, a Washington Post story revealed that Florida Senator and Tea Party darling Marco Rubio’s story about his parents fleeing Cuba during the rise of Fidel Castro was not factually accurate. The Post reported:
But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that the Florida Republican’s account embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than two-and-a-half years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.
It turns out Rubio’s parents came to the U.S. in 1956 seeking a better life and thought about returning to Cuba. In fact, they did go back while Castro was in power to assess the situation, but decided not to stay in Cuba. Rubio notes that his story is based on oral stories passed down from his parents and not from his own historical findings. Fair enough. We all have stories embellished by our family members about what happened in the past. Rubio probably did not think his parents would make facts up, so he just took the story as true.
My beef is not with this controversy, but with using political inspiration stories as a justification for holding up a politician as an authority on a specific topic. Whenever we have a debate about U.S.-Cuban policy, Rubio usually weighs in on the matter. Just because he is the descendent of Cuban immigrants doe make him an expert on whether the 40 year old U.S. embargo on Cuba has any impact or the possibility of liberalizing Cuba’s political system. To take another example, I wouldn’t assume that because Barack Obama was raised by a single mother means he has an expertise on understanding the sociological implications of single women raising families. As Matt Yglesias points out, just because House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had a grandmother who was poor and raised two children doesn’t make him an expert on welfare reform.
I am not saying that personal stories are not important and do not have influence on shaping a person’s policy positions, personal experience is key element in deciphering political issues. However, it should not be the only thing. Not all situations are like yours. Statistical and academic research should also be part of that equation. More importantly, having experience in one area should not make you an expert on “all things that subject.” Once again, I don’t have a problem with gaps in Rubio’s story about his parents. Using it for political gain and for qualified expertise is whole different issue.