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Ann McFeatters: Marco Rubio's rebuttal watered down the facts

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks with The Associated Press

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks with The Associated Press in his Capitol Hill office in Washington. (Feb. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

WASHINGTON - Enter Marco Rubio! Exit Marco Rubio?

The charismatically starved Republican Party needs a new champion. Millions of people were hoping, praying and betting that it would be the handsome young senator from Miami. He's from Cuba, and the fastest-growing ethnic group in America is Hispanic! Except for wrongly stipulating when his parents immigrated to the United States, he's free of scandal! Did we mention that he's easy on the eyes? And then came his unfortunate response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, which he apparently neither read nor listened to before he made his remarks.

College Debate 101: Rebut the issues at hand and discard your prepared remarks if they are not applicable.

OK, OK. Rubio obviously was nervous, lurching for water, making us hold our breath in worry that he might topple off camera range. But for a guy who wants to be a party bigwig and the first Latino president, he's got miles to go before he credibly can sit with the big boys and girls plotting a GOP takeover.

We were caught off guard by the hypocrisy.

He touted his working-class roots. He said he merely wanted to help his neighbors avoid just about everything Obama is trying to do. "I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in," he said. He forgot to mention that he's trying to flee those neighbors and has his Miami house on the market for $675,000.

He noted how he applauds programs such as Medicare and student loans, which he said had been of enormous help to his family and himself. Then he trashed government.

College Speech 101: Find your point, be logical, stick to the facts. Repeatedly, Rubio castigated Obama for not addressing issues that Obama pointedly did address in his speech.

After his wandering response, designed to portray Rubio as an exciting new breed of Republican, he voted the next day against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Although 23 Republican senators voted for it, some don't like it because it extends protection to lesbians, Native Americans and immigrants. Apparently, some Republicans think it is OK if such women are physically attacked.

Rubio also opposed raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

His big card is immigration reform. Republicans lost so abysmally with Hispanic voters last November that party leaders, terrified as they are of Tea Party-movement followers, realized they must do something to attract more voters. Thus Rubio was tapped to give the response to Obama.

Does the phrase "not yet ready for prime time" come to mind? Did you hear bold new ideas on immigration from Rubio on Tuesday? No, you did not. Apparently, party leaders told him no bold new policy initiatives. This is no movie with Spencer Tracy bucking party leaders to do what he thought right.

Did you hear a plea for Congress and the White House to do a deal to avoid what economists say will be a disaster if automatic across-the-board budget cuts go into effect March 1? No, you did not.

What you heard was a tedious, oh-so-yesterday 15-minute attack on Obama.

Fact-checkers said Rubio radically mischaracterized Obama's positions on Medicare, climate change, health care, the budget and several other similar minor issues that face the nation. Oh, for an honest politician.

We are disappointed. We wanted Rubio to do well, to shine in the spotlight, to inspire us with vision and fortitude and charisma and a few bold, workable ideas, to carry an olive branch.

Instead, we got the same-old same old. We understand Rubio's dilemma; ambition trumps all, and he'll never reach his ambitions unless he walks a careful line, neither alienating establishment Republicans nor the new breed that doesn't understand how the country works.

We had hoped for more, so much more.

We got less, so much less.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.