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Complicating Rubio's political narrative

Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo charges that it is the Washington Post -- not Marco Rubio -- that's doing the embellishing regarding when Rubio's parents came to the U.S., whether it was before or after Fidel Castro.

Regardless of when his parents left Cuba, they were exiles because they stayed in the US, specifically Miami, in a community where they soon felt they couldn't go back to their homeland. Though the story said his parents left for economic reasons, it's silent about the fact that the dictator before Castro, Batista, was so brutal that it made Castro look like a good alternative at first. (Insert debate over the fairness of the post-Castro Cuban Adjustment Act here).

The Post also says "the supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity." That's a stretch. The actual story of the "flight" is far less emphasized than the fact that Rubio's an Hispanic Republican, an immigrant and an exile.

Yet the implicit political narrative that made Rubio a GOP star, especially within the Tea Party, is that Obama's America resembles the Castro-led Cuba from which his parents were denied a better life. Just look at Rubio's CPAC speech in Feb. 2010:

Almost every other country in the world chose to have the government run the economy. They chose to allow government to decide which companies survive and fail. They chose to allow government to determine which industries are to be rewarded. But the problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same. And so in those countries, the employee never becomes the employer, the small business can never compete with a big business, and no matter how hard your parents work or how many sacrifices they make, if you weren't born into the right family in those countries, there's only so far you can go.

Now, we've had our excesses here in America, but for the better part of 234 years, Americans have chosen something very different, Americans chose individual liberty instead of the false security of government. Americans chose a limited government that exists to protect our rights, not to grant them.

Americans chose a free enterprise system designed to provide a quality of opportunity, not compel a quality of results. And that is why this is only place in the world where you can open up a business in the spare bedroom of your home.

That is why this is the only place in the world where a company that started as an idea drawn out on the back of a cocktail napkin can one day be publicly traded on Wall Street. That's why this is the only country in the world where today's employee is tomorrow's employer. And yet, there are still people in American politics who, for some reason, cling to this belief that America is better off adopting the economic policies of nations whose people who immigrate here from there.

Now, they have the right to believe whatever they want, but I do not have that option. You see, I'm one generation removed from a very different life. My mother was one of seven sisters born to my grandfather that I talked about earlier born to very humble parents who struggled every day. My father had it even tougher. His mother died when he was only six years old and the day after her funeral, he went to work selling coffee in the streets of Havana with his father and as best as I can tell, he worked from then on for 70 years.

They came to America with virtually nothing, no English, no money, no friends. Only the strong determination to provide their children all the opportunities they never had.

My mom worked as a cashier, a factory worker, a maid and a K-Mart stock clerk; my dad primarily as a bartender. Both of my parents worked jobs so their children could have careers and their lives were never easy.

How many nights did I hear the keys of my 70-year-old father at the door as he came home after another 16-hour day? How many mornings would I wake up and run into my mom who was just coming home from the overnight shift as a stock clerk at K-Mart?

When you're young and in a hurry, the meaning of those moments escape you, but as the years go by and as my own children get older, I understand it now. I realize that my parents were once my age, that they once had dreams -- that there were some things that they once wanted to accomplish. But because of where they were born, because of who they were born to, because they lost their country, their dreams never had a chance. So they came here to America and went to work and it became the mission of their lives to give us the chance to do everything that they could not.

And so now I know that every chance I have ever had and everything that I will ever accomplish, I owe to God, to my parents' sacrifices and to the United States of America.

My parents never achieved wealth or influence, but their hard work opened doors for their children that had been closed for them, and so to me, their story is the very essence of the American miracle. It is a story that is rare in the world, and yet, it is common here. It is common here because those that came before us chose to live in a free society. It is common here because those who came before us chose free enterprise. But now our leaders are asking us to choose something very different. They're asking us to abandon the things that separate us from the rest of the world.

Those that came before us made their choice and now, you and I must make ours.

Now, I must decide, do I want my children to grow up in the country that I grew up in or do I want them to grow up in a country like the one my parents grew up in?

Now you must decide. Do you want your children to inherit your hopes and your dreams?

Now Caputo is right here: In this speech, Rubio never once said -- explicitly -- that his family came to the U.S. after Castro. And Rubio said in a statement that his parents hoped, one day, to return to Cuba but couldn't because they didn't want to live under Castro's communism. And Rubio's family story is compelling, no matter when they came to the U.S.

But they first came here for a better economic life when Batista was in power, when Meyer Lansky was helping to build casinos in Havana, and when crony capitalism -- not communism -- was in place in Cuba.

As we wrote in First Thoughts this morning, the Washington Post story probably isn't a career-damaging piece. But it does complicate the narrative that his parents fled Cuba to get away from Castro's communism/socialism, which is being replicated in Obama's America.

They came here before then.