Monday, May 21, 2018
Opinion

Myths and symbols a powerful part of our history

As a student of literature, art, popular culture and politics, I always have been intrigued by the pervasiveness and power of myth and symbol to captivate the human imagination, shape ideas and influence behavior.

The second edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines myth as "any real or fictional story, recurring theme, or character type that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving expression to deep, commonly held emotions." The fourth edition of Webster's New World College Dictionary defines symbol as "something that stands for, represents, or suggests another thing."

During the 2012 presidential campaign, myth and symbol are at center stage, much of it surrounding President Barack Obama. In fact, Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One, was compelled to write a column, "Five myths about Barack Obama," debunking what he sees as Republican-invented falsehoods about the nation's first black president.

While the Obama myth and symbol grow more negative by the day, the recently published memoir of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Cuban, is a textbook example of myth and symbol being used as powerful tools to create authentic character out of whole cloth.

I give Rubio and his publisher credit for being good, if not cynical, students of U.S. politics and social behavior. He cleverly titled his memoir An American Son. He comprehends the power of the word "American," itself a mythic and archetypal term that is hard to dismiss or denigrate.

In addition to "American," Rubio cleverly uses the term "son," an allusion to birthright and inheritance. It gives him a natural way to discuss his Cuban roots and a cunning way to turn exile into American heroism.

The 41-year-old junior senator has made himself the protagonist, the shinning star, of an instant American myth. Forget that the major event of the narrative — told in the autobiography on Rubio's Senate website — never happened. Rubio claims that his parents, Mario and Oriales Rubio, had fled Cuba after Fidel Castro installed communist rule. Immigration records show that Rubio's parents came to the United States in 1956.

The core of Rubio's political identity is false. How, then, does he rationalize his allusion to the heroism and sacrifice of exile in his memoir's title?

"Exile is not a time frame," he told USA Today. "Exile is an experience. It's a sentiment. For my parents, it's very real pain of being permanently separated from the nation of their birth. … They can never go back and show us the place where my father grew up, or where his parents are buried, or where he used to play baseball, or where they met or where they got married. They can never show us any of those things, and that pain is very real."

This is powerful-sounding stuff, but it omits some important realities. Rubio's parents could have returned to Cuba, but they chose not to. The senator himself recently visited Guantanamo Bay, his first time on Cuban soil. Why didn't he travel to Havana or Santiago, to real Cuba? Why go to a U.S. prison that houses foreigners?

The reason is simple: A visit to the heart of the communist nation would have angered hard-core Castro haters in Miami's Little Havana, thus undermining the myth and symbol of the "American son."

Rubio aside, perhaps the most powerful myths and symbols in American political life are those that established the analogy of King Arthur and Camelot with the presidency of John F. Kennedy. JFK was likened to the idealistic King Arthur who led the Knights of the Roundtable. Arthur served justice, and JFK was seen as having done the same. This analogy can be traced to Theodore White's December 1963 essay in Life magazine about JFK's assassination and his 1,000-day presidency. Jacqueline Kennedy, JFK's widow, asked White to write the essay.

White wrote that JFK's Camelot represented "a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers, and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls held back."

Time and revelations involving adultery, political betrayal and illness have not tarnished the association of Camelot with the Kennedy administration.

Many of us old enough to recall that dark day in Dallas still feel the loss of our gallant hero. The myth and symbol of that era will never die. We long for another magic moment in American history, when the barbarians and opportunists beyond the walls are held back.

Comments
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the stateís 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondiís lawsuit against the nationís largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the stateís battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestraís violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestraís violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice theyíve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondiís lawsuit against the nationís largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the stateís battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Childrenís should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Childrenís should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Childrenís Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institutionís lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburgís 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUDís flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUDís flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18