When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, claiming to represent a new generation of leadership, my maternal grandmother, Catherine Murray, was an old lady. (At least that’s how I saw her; at 52, she was younger than I am now.)
But she was absolutely receptive to Kennedy’s desire to grab the torch of leadership for a new generation. She often referred to JFK as “that dear young man.”
Fast-forward 55 years and it’s Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, who’s campaigning on his youth. And guess what? Rubio is 43, the same age Kennedy was when he was elected.
“This election is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” Rubio said this week. Then he twisted the knife in an attack on Hillary Clinton that also could be seen as a dig at Jeb Bush.
“Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday. Yesterday is over and we’re never going back.”
Despite the accent on youth, Rubio presumably hopes that older voters won’t tell him (and his campaigns signs) to get off their lawns. And there’s a reason for optimism on that score. Rubio may be young – callow, even – but he has some old positions.
Foremost among them is his opposition to President Obama’s decision to reestablish normal relations with Cuba, Rubio’s ancestral home.
Much has been written about how younger Cuban Americans are not as opposed to normalization as their elders. A poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International in late March found that 60% of Cuban Americans ages 30-49 – Rubio’s cohort – supported normalization. For those 18-29 the number was 69%.
But Rubio called Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba “unacceptable” and “profoundly disappointing.”
As Peter Beinart noted in the Atlantic, “In opposing President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Havana, Rubio speaks not for his own generation of Cuban Americans, but for his parents and grandparents.
The same could be said of JFK, whose anti-communism and warnings of a “missile gap” were music to the ears of people of my grandmother’s generation. But a lot of young people also agreed with Kennedy on those points.
I’m not sure the same is true of that “dear young man” from Miami.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3