When Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio took the stage Tuesday night in Charlotte to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, he immediately was compared with Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the superstars at last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Both are young, bright, charismatic Hispanic leaders. Rubio is 41, Castro 37. They represent the rising Latino population, which has become a powerful political force in our politics. Both speak movingly about their immigrant experience — Rubio as the descendant of Cuban refugees from the dictatorships of Batista and then Fidel Castro, Julian Castro (no relation) as the scion of a penniless grandmother who came here from Mexico for economic opportunity.
But if both shared the immigrant experience, they drew opposite lessons from it: Rubio learned the value of self-reliance, Castro the importance of government lending a helping hand.
Still, their narratives were remarkably similar. Here was Rubio:
My dad was a bartender. My mom was a cashier, a hotel maid, a stock clerk at Kmart. They never made it big. They were never rich, and yet they were successful, because just a few decades removed from hopelessness, they made possible for us all the things that have been impossible for them.
And this was Castro:
My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio…She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family. My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one.
That journey…from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle. That we’re exceptional, not because we have more rich people here. We are special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, they come true here.
My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.
I could go on, but you get the point. And yet their conclusions couldn’t be any more different.
America’s prosperity did not happen because our government simply spent more money. It happened because our people use their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who invest or spend their money in the economy, helping others start a business or create jobs.
America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before…believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow… The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won — these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.
So, there you have it — Rubio believes in the transformative power of the heroic entrepreneur who creates wealth for everyone. Castro believes in the power of government to build bridges and open doors to a brighter future for ordinary people. In their eloquent speeches, Rubio and Castro described concisely the sharp philosophical difference that’s the source of the polarization in our country.
Howard R. Gold is a columnist at MarketWatch and editor at large for MoneyShow.com. You can read his live blog of President Clinton’s speech Wednesday night and follow his coverage of the Democratic National Convention at www.independentagenda.com.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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