Isn’t it time to do a new political version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous “Flight of the Bumblebee?” The musical piece has had various incarnations in American culture. In the 40s, it was the theme for “The Green Hornet” radio show. In the 60s, jazzed-up adaptation performed by trumpet player Al Hirt was the theme for the TV show -- and it became a worldwide hit when it was re-used in the 2003 film “Kill Bill.”
Today, you can almost hear a new version of that theme when you watch Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio flee from his own immigration reform bill: you can almost hear the jazz trumpet playing “Flight of the Ambitious Politician.” It’s a tragedy for Rubio, the Republican Party and the United States as we watch the Florida Senator’s almost humiliating retreat from a position he had once defended with such passion and courage.
Once upon a time, Rubio had been part of the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” that came up with a comprehensive immigration reform solution that included a pathway to citizenship. When Republicans suffered their massive 2012 election defeat and talk about “rebranding” started, Rubio was perceived as symbolic of a “new” GOP: a young, first-term, Hispanic Senator who had creds with conservatives, general electorate appeal. He was a prospect for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination who talked with conviction about the need for multi-faceted immigration reform. He walked the walk working with Democrats to try and achieve something built on bipartisan consensus.
But then he went on conservative talk shows to argue for his bill and found minimal support or outright hostility. Far right pundit and talkers called him naive, a sell-out, a traitor, charging the Senate bill would doom the GOP by adding millions of Democratic voters. Then ambitious Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the darling of the anti-comprehensive immigration reform conservatives Rubio was wooing for a likely 2016 Presidential run.
The result? Rubio began inching away from his previous position as surely as a kid playing “Red Light.” Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant recently told news outlets that Rubio now doesn’t think the bill he himself helped draft should be combined with a House passed bill. He now favors a series of individual bills that could get House support. If you think a Tea Party dominated House passed bill will be comprehensive, I can sell you Microsoft Corporation for $320.
Some analysts insist “real” immigration reform isn’t dead. The Politico’s Seung Min Kim writes that Rubio’s “latest comments supporting scaled-back immigration reform may not be the death knell for the effort that they seem...” Bloomberg’s editors hope Republican moderates help:
“Obstacles abound, of course, but a few potential pathways to success can still be discerned,” they write, pointing to a clamor from immigration activists and business leaders for reform. “After the government shutdown fiasco, some Republican representatives are newly vulnerable. Their re-election could be further threatened if Speaker John Boehner continues catering to the far right by refusing to bring immigration legislation to the floor.”
Rubio’s effort to distance himself from his own bill brings to mind a classic radio comedy moment when Jack Benny, playing a cheapskate millionaire comedian named Jack Benny, is confronted by a robber. “Your money or your life!” the robber says. A long pause. “Your money or your life!” the robber repeats. Still no answer. So he shouts: “I said ‘Your money or your life!” “I’m THINKING IT OVER!” Benny shouts back.
It’s like the GOP’s conservative base told Rubio: “Your principles or your defeat!” Except Rubio didn’t need much time thinking it over.
In 1957 John F. Kennedy, Jr. (allegedly aided by the uncredited talents of Theodore Sorenson) won a Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage,” his book about politicians who defied their constituents or worked with the other side to stick to their principles. Perhaps it’s now time for a 21st century sequel: “Profiles in Cowardice.” I wouldn’t be so crass as to say who should be on the cover.
But I will say that whenever I see him, I can almost hear “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org