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I don't much care for political scandal. It distracts from issues that ought to be decided by an informed electorate.
A politician I deeply admired, the late Governor Marvin Mandel of Maryland, accepted watches, legal services, expensive clothing, jewelry, real estate, and lots and lots of money as part of a complicated scheme of bribery. It broke my heart, and it took from the citizens of Maryland the opportunity to judge whether to continue policies of school construction, gun safety, Metro-train style public transportation, emergency shock trauma health innovation, and all around government efficiency.
A politician I came to admire, Governor George Ryan of Illinois, was less creative in selling government contracts and licenses for money-laundered bribes. As indictments came closer, voters in Illinois were deprived of the chance to approve or reject his stand against the death penalty.
I still admire these two thieves, both of whom very much belonged in prison.
I did not much care for Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Voters should have decided whether to continue a program of education cuts, off-shore drilling expansion, slashes in health care, and an infamous trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement of women thinking about abortion. Instead, public attention was devoted to an investigation that initially focused on whether the Governor used public funds for dog food and bathroom shower products, an investigation that later exposed true major corruption.
Scandal is highly entertaining and enticing to much of the public. I don't much care for its sickly sweet odor. Scandal substitutes triviality in place of substance.
Occasionally, scandal itself becomes so overwhelming it overlaps into the nature of public policy. I see the blunt force trauma to civil liberties administered by the Nixon administration as reaching that threshold. That is the thermonuclear exception to the rule of more common petty temptation.
What are we to make of Marco Rubio?
Rival Jeb Bush hints darkly of background problems that will swim out of the political swamp, like some medieval sea monster, huge and menacing: a watery version of a biblical behemoth rising from the book of Job.
Minor problems with an organizational credit card issued by the Florida Republican Party did not quite fill sandals of Goliath. Corruption should be made from sterner stuff.
The brother-in-law problem may be closer to what Jeb! has in mind.
It seems Marco Rubio's sister married a fellow who got involved with a drug organization in Miami. When the organization was broken up by federal law enforcement authorities, the brother-in-law went to prison. He got out 12 years later.
Some of us do take almost a libertarian view of narcotics. A competent adult should have the right to self-destruction. Treatment works better than punishment when the self-destructive have a change of heart.
And there should be limits on guilt by association. Young Marco was close to his brother-in-law, mowing lawns, doing odd jobs for a child's wages, and hanging out. When the involvement with drugs began, Marco was 12. By all accounts, he was unaware. When the arrest occurred he was 16.
Marco Rubio seems never to have hidden his relationship with his brother-in-law. He has written about the man's gift for tales of Cuba, bringing the comfort of fond memories to Marco's parents. He has also written about the pain of finding out about the arrest, discovering the hidden illegalities.
Not everything was aboveboard for Marco Rubio. In later years, after serving a dozen years in prison, the former drug dealer wanted to make his way into an honest living. He applied for a real estate license.
By this time Marco Rubio was a success, an influential leader in the Florida legislature. He wrote letters on behalf of his brother-in-law and got him his real estate license. But he did not mention in those letters the brother-in-law part, or that they were relatives, or that they had any relationship.
And investigations by reporters keep uncovering details. The brother-in-law was at the center of the Tabraue Cartel. He functioned as the front man, insulating the drug kingpin Mario Tabraue from day-to-day functions, making contact, conducting deals, pretty much operating at the direction of the head of the cartel.
That cartel was more than a sub rosa smuggling operation, providing a service that bluenoses don't like. Three years before Rubio's brother-in-law got involved, the group became aware of the undercover identity of a federal informant. The murder was especially grisly, involving chainsaws and body parts. Authorities were never able to find the pieces of the victim.
On a policy level, Marco Rubio does conform to the requirements imposed by today's Republican base. Like other officeholders, he reacts with reflexive opposition to any and every Obama initiative. From the Iran anti-nuclear agreement to this season's modest gun safety initiative, Republicans respond with anger before actual policy is known to them. They predict what they will see, and are amazed and outraged by nothing more than their thoughts. When actual details are finally known, they modify modify their fury to fit.
But Marco Rubio has a reputation for moderate demeanor. And, in some areas, Republicans are moving a little beyond a mere contest of anti-Obama name calling. They are just beginning to debate in what direction they might part ways with Obama anti-terrorist policies. Marco Rubio is at the center of that debate.
Voters may never develop a verdict about Marco Rubio's ideas, his policy approach, the direction he might endeavor to take the Republic.
I have been hoping Marco Rubio might contribute a rare shining light to the Republican darkness. He has been at the center of an inspirational true story of the trauma of discovered criminality and arrest, followed years later by a nurturing of recovery and redemption. I think of a family providing a lost soul with a way back to the fold.
Then I think of his primary rivals, and a political party who, not so long ago, elected a president with attack ads about rape and murder and Willie Horton. What ethical limits will his rivals possess?
This is the modern Republican party. The one time home of Abraham Lincoln now houses a shrinking group that routinely accuses a president of treason, a party still proud of swift boat attacks on a war hero.
If Marco Rubio begins to rise to the level of a threat to another Republican, the campaign will not be about an inspirational story. It will not be about debate or policy.
Marco Rubio will not survive the primary season.
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