The woods are full of presidential candidates these days. That’s a development that is not exactly being greeted with joy by most voters who may already be bored with a presidential race that has 18 months left to go. But the gaggle of candidates is good news for political reporters who are being sent out by their editors to beat the bushes for negative stories about their backgrounds. That’s certainly true of the liberal mainstream media and the GOP field. Today’s entry in what will be a long running series of investigations into their lives comes from the New York Times, which discovered, to their horror, that the junior senator from Florida likes to drive fast. As the headline on the piece reads, “Marco Rubio and His Wife Cited 17 Times for Traffic Violations.” That may shock some people, but the bet here is that, if anything, this is exactly the sort of story that will help rather than hurt Rubio.
The story has all the detail you want if you’re a traffic court fan. Since 1997, Rubio has gotten four moving violations while his wife has gotten 13. That’s a lot, and both have been compelled to take those remedial driver’s ed classes that people with more than a couple of tickets are often sentenced to sit through. Perhaps this will incline some self-righteous observers to denounce Rubio and his wife as thoughtless or reckless. But if anyone at the Times thinks Marco Rubio’s speeding tickets will hurt his chances of being elected president, they know nothing about Americans and their feelings about cars or traffic cops. Indeed, Rubio’s tendency to push the speed limits will remind Americans of a couple of things that he would like them to associate him with.
The first is youth. Rubio is one of the youngest candidates in the race. Some have already pointed out, with good reason, that electing another youthful freshman senator to be president doesn’t sound like such a great idea. That’s especially true if you’re a Republican who has spent the last eight years denouncing Barack Obama. But Americans like the idea of a man who is about possibilities rather than the baggage of past campaigns. That, along with a strong policy record on domestic and foreign policy issues, is the whole point of the Rubio candidacy. As a recent CNN/ORC poll showed, more than any other presidential contender, he’s the one most associated with the future rather than the past. And although Americans are a rapidly aging population, which ought to make more mature candidates like Hillary Clinton and, say, Jeb Bush — more natural choices for the presidency — our culture still worships youth almost as much as it loves cars.
Let me go further and say that, while traffic safety is vitally important and speeding is a potentially dangerous activity, there’s little doubt that traffic cops are even more disliked by most Americans than politicians or journalists. We all know that the point of traffic enforcement policy today is raising revenue, not safety. If everyone who has ever driven above the speeding limit or committed some traffic infraction identifies with the image of the senator being pulled over, he has little to worry about.
But there’s another aspect to this story that helps Rubio. In recent years, Republicans candidates have been subjected to some pretty tough examinations by the mainstream liberal media. Supposedly prestigious news organizations have stooped to publishing stories that didn’t pass the smell test, but which served the purpose of smearing their characters.
In 2008, that meant a huge New York Times feature alleging an affair between Senator John McCain and a lobbyist. This thinly veiled piece of unsourced gossip trashed McCain’s reputation even though it was based on the flimsiest of evidence and didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In 2011, the Washington Post ran a huge expose on Texas Governor Rick Perry alleging that his family owned a hunting camp with a racially offensive name even though it’s not clear that this had anything to do with Perry or that it was anything more a name on a slab of rock that had since been painted over.
In 2012, the Post subjected Mitt Romney to the indignity of a similarly extensive story that centered on a prank he and some of his friends played on another boy during high school. The incident, in which a boy who would one day declare that he was gay, got a haircut, was treated with the same gravity as stories about serial killers.
You get the picture. If you’re a Republican, expect anything in your past to be treated as a death penalty offense no matter what it might be. If you’re a Clinton, even contemporary scandals and genuine conflicts of interest involving foreign donors and national security issues, are items we should dismiss as the product of the “vast right wing conspiracy.”
So, if the worst thing they can dig up in Marco Rubio’s biography is that he and his wife have gotten multiple traffic tickets, that’s good news for his presidential prospects. It’s also a subliminal message that he’s a man with his future ahead of him and in touch with the ordinary business of life that privileged elites may have forgotten about. That’s especially true if he’s eventually matched up with a former First Lady who hasn’t sat in the front seat since the first George Bush was president. Besides, if he wins, he and his wife will never drive again. There may be better or worse reasons to vote for or against him. But, seen from that perspective, perhaps a vote for Rubio really is a vote for traffic safety.