President Marco Rubio

If Marco Rubio wins the Florida Senate seat, he'll instantly become a frontrunner for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 2012. Whoever is at the top of the ticket -- Palin, Romney, Gingrich -- will find it hard to deny him the nod. Several factors will work in Rubio's favor: youth (he'll be 41 then); religion (he's an observant Roman Catholic); a photogenic family (he has four children with his ex-cheerleader wife); a cozy relationship with the Tea Party; and a powerful fundraising machine in a critical state. The biggest asset he'd bring to the table, however, is his ethnicity.

Two years hence, Republicans will face a Latino voter gap as wide as the proposed border fence. But with Rubio in the no. 2 spot, the party can claim it's not really anti-immigrant, despite its rhetoric to the contrary. And I doubt its resident xenophobes will object to a Cuban American VP. Unlike other Latino immigrant groups, such as Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, a sizable majority of Cubans consistently votes Republican. This is popularly ascribed to lingering feelings of betrayal over JFK's handling of the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis. And yet it was another Democratic president, LBJ, who abolished the immigration quota system, making it possible for hundreds of thousands of Cubans to enter the U.S.

At the time Rubio's parents were already here. (They arrived in 1959.) By all accounts, an admirable and inspiring couple. For many years, they uncomplainingly toiled at menial jobs to support their children. In an interview with Fox News, Rubio credited his success to "God, my parents' sacrifice, and the free enterprise system." How ungrateful of him to exclude the government! Rubio now rails against it, but Washington spent tens of millions of dollars to help Cuban exiles like his parents. They were given surplus food and a monthly subsistence allowance. The Small Business Administration provided loans. Programs were established to teach children English; recertify lawyers, doctors, and other professionals; and resettle families around the country when jobs were scarce in Miami. So much federal largesse was showered upon the Cubans, local gringos -- white and black -- grew quite resentful.

And the taxpayer's teat is still being sucked! Old hardliners within the exile community are fond of denouncing socialism, but threaten to take away their Medicare, Social Security, and government-assisted housing benefits, and you'll hear a mighty howl. And don't get me started on Radio and TV Marti, a pair of boondoggles which has added more to the national debt than all of Reagan's mythical welfare queens combined. If you're curious, read Ann Louise Bardach's Without Fidel, which exposes this wasteful joke.

But Rubio, the deficit hawk, will never utter a word against it. His eyes are fixed on the ultimate prize. Whether a Palin- or Romney-Rubio ticket wins or loses, he'll be the hierarchical GOP's next in line. Rubio for President 2016! . . . or 2020.

A defeat by Charlie Crist, however, would throw a monkey wrench into his plans. I don't believe either Democratic candidate stands a chance against Rubio. Kendrick Meek seems to be a good man, but he's ... well, meek. And Jeff Greene is a party-loving, billionaire carpetbagger who profited from the mortgage meltdown (what an amusing coincidence that he shares his name with Jeff Garlin's character on Curb Your Enthusiasm; he even looks like Garlin). Crist is the only viable alternative. He's been attacked for his lack of principle. But principle is the last refuge of an extremist. "The best lack all conviction," Yeats wrote, "the worst are full of passionate intensity." Three cheers for pragmatism! Hoorah for expediency! Not sexy and romantic, but they achieve results.

Rubio worries me less than the forces propelling him forward. They represent our lowest common denominator, as we've seen with the manufactured outrage over the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." A distasteful metaphor for today's conservative movement may be found in The Human Centipede. In this 2009 horror movie -- which I advise you not to watch -- an insanely evil doctor abducts three people (a man and two women) in order to conduct a hideous experiment: he transforms them into the title creature by removing their kneecaps and grafting them together, mouth to anus. No longer able to stand, the poor wretches are forced to crawl across the floor. And since they now share a single digestive tract, you can imagine what happens when the lead segment (the man) defecates.

Behold the Republican Party! An inhumane centipede, endlessly long, composed of millions of Americans ideologically sutured together. But unlike the victims in the movie, they did it to themselves. And now they must ingest whatever right-wing foullness is channeled through this unnatural system. I quoted Yeats earlier. Are we witnessing a slimy beast, its hour come round at last, slither toward Washington to be born?

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