The front page story in the Sunday New York Times, "Billionaire Lifts Marco Rubio Politically and Personally" is a reflection on an unbalanced friendship and the state of American politics although the deeper questions relate to the latter.
MIAMI — One day in the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Marco Rubio, the young speaker of the House, strayed from the legislative proceedings to single out a lanky, silver-haired man seated in the balcony: a billionaire auto dealer named Norman Braman.Eye On Miami has very strong views on both Mr. Braman and Senator Rubio. Marco, both bloggers here believe, is a kid who made good from West Dade but whose career is distinguished by his ability to deliver a telegenic face and poll-tested opinions, stretching the truth when it serves his political interests, and mainly rising thanks to Jeb Bush, who needed a strong consigliere in the state legislature when he (Jeb) was governor. Marco Rubio is the GOP analogue to Alex Penelas, if Penelas had kept his reputation clean with Democrats and not succumbed to the great chase of wealth accumulation (i.e. Homestead Air Force Base fiasco).
This man, Mr. Rubio said in effusive remarks in 2008, was no ordinary billionaire, hoarding his cash or using it to pursue selfish passions.
“He’s used it,” Mr. Rubio said, “to enrich the lives of so many people whose names you will never know.” As it turned out, one of the people enriched was Mr. Rubio himself.
Braman is a different story. We have rued that more Miami billionaires haven't stuck up for civic causes like Norman Braman, even as we expressed our confusion how Braman targets some issues -- the ouster of Mayor Carlos Alvarez, for example -- so effectively, and yet is completely out of tune with other issues of civic concern where the wealth of a billionaire could be a decisive factor (taking on the unreformable majority of the county commission, for example).
The New York Times reporting comes closest to a point of view that reflects our experience: Mr. Braman has earned the 30,000 foot view from the private jet and sees the world from there as a set of sharply defined interests: local taxation, Israel, and state legislation that directly impacts his automobile empire. This is not to say that Braman is a simple person at all.
In Miami, I've watched his star power at the noon lunch crowd at Joe's Stone Crab and silently wondered if any of the lawyers, movers and shakers had even the slightest interest in diving into local and state politics, or, whether they just celebrate Mr. Braman for his wealth and servicing their cars (or the cars of their clients). Why doesn't Mr. Braman involve himself in the other powerful civic causes of Miami: the absence of parks, the inequities of a miserable public transportation system, or the area of public policy that Senator Rubio is most vulnerable on: climate change.
It's a mystery, although no more of a mystery than the way American voters have allowed a GOP-controlled Congress and GOP-selected judiciary to put oligarchs on a pedestal. Billionaires like Mr. Braman are wielding such outsized influence on American politics and campaigns today that recently the chairman of the Federal Elections Commission despaired publicly -- to the New York Times -- that she had "no confidence" federal laws could be enforced on campaign finance.
What comes through the report by the New York Times on the relationship between Mr. Braman and Senator Rubio is the portrait of a political patron and his hireling. Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, and Iowa pig farmers and Big Sugar billionaires have their own candidates and we will never know how much money is finally funneled into any of the campaigns. Some days it seems our political life most resembles Florence Italy in the 15th century.
It is not what the Founding Fathers wanted: that elections should turn into variety shows based on a Kentucky Derby format. We are in the stands, the women wearing splendid hats to mark a most fashionable annual event, while the barons and sultans and emirs sit in the gilded boxes below. Great entertainment. Lousy democracy. In fact, it is not democracy at all.