Marco Rubio’s Midlife Crisis

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For a while now, I’ve been dividing the world into two categories: people who are younger than me, and people who are older than me. Everyone I encounter (or pseudo-encounter, like on TV or on Twitter) gets sized up and put into one or the other. This probably started in my late 20s. Before then, because I was a year ahead in school (and I was in school through age 24), my world was pretty reliably older than me. Then a few big moves happened, but they were clear and finite. I started teaching in Undergraduate Film at NYU and suddenly I had students — of course, they were all younger than me. My brother got married and then I had nephews who, sooner than anyone could have expected, were walking, talking humans with thoughts — who, again, were of course younger than me. But then, slowly, whole categories of people started to shift. Athletes went first, though not super noticeably since I only really paid attention to them during the Olympics, the World Cup, maybe Wimbledon. Bigger ones were roommates and dateable men. Once I hit my mid-30s, the movement became fairly tectonic. Musicians, actors, artists, crew people I worked with, with each category it would begin at the lower level — the new and unestablished and unimportant — and then slowly slip toward the successful, the Oscar winners, the department heads, Beyoncé. I’m right at the midpoint now with writers and directors, where a lot of them are right around my age, which you can see from the jokes that are being written, the cultural references, the choice of music. No more the jazz of Woody Allen, the vintage rock of Scorcese, the obscure 70s b-sides of Tarantino, now it’s all Beastie Boys and Men Without Hats. And can you believe the number of 80s period pieces that are out there? Will people ever get tired of big hair and shoulder pads?

Now, I’ve reached a new milestone. I was reading an article about Marco Rubio in the New Yorker and found out that he was 44. So we are finally into the era when presidential candidates are starting to be younger than me. What’s the big deal? you may ask. One of my friends pointed out that Obama was only 42 when he was elected. “Yes,” I replied, “but at the time I was 39!” Presidents, of all people, are supposed to be old and wise. Never mind that this particular crop of Republican candidates feels more like a bunch of brawling kids in a schoolyard (even if some of those kids are in their 70s). Now, I just went and googled youngest world leaders and it turns out that the situation on the world stage is even more dire. I thought there’d only be Justin Trudeau (44), but as it turns out, the presidents/prime ministers of Belgium, Iceland, Kosovo and Italy are all only 40! The heads of Qatar, Bhutan, Estonia, San Marino and Yemen are all even younger (35 or 36), but three of them were not democratically elected, one of those countries has only 1.3 million people, and one is an “enclaved micro state” inside of Italy. And then there’s Kim Jong-un, who’s 33, but he’s Kim Jong-un. Nevertheless, none of them are in line to potentially be my president. I just don’t think I’m ready for anyone who’s got a shot at running this country not to be older than me.

Now, I would never vote for Rubio, and I knew from the beginning of the article, reading abut his flip-flop of immigration and all the other ways in which he’s trying to prove his ultra-conservative credentials, that I would not like him. But then I read the part about how he’s complaining about his allergies on the road, saying, “but I’ve never had allergies before,” and I remembered how I said the same thing when I started sneezing for no reason at 44. I also read the thing about how his throat is always bothering him, and I totally identified with that too: I’m always clearing my throat because of my acid reflux, yet another issue I developed in my late 30s/early 40s. Then I read how he answers questions, how equivocal he sounds when he’s talking about all the issues – like he’s pretty sure he knows what he’s thinking right now, but he’s also pretty sure he’s going to change his mind. Sure, it could be because if he wins the primary he knows he’s going to have to tack heavily to the left to accommodate the general electorate, but it was starting to sound like he was at that point where he was realizing he’d changed his mind about so many things so often — like, for me, what type of men I like, what I want to do for a living, what my ultimate goals are in life, what my favorite color is — that he’d basically realized that anything he thought was only going to be temporary. And I thought to myself, is Marco Rubio running for president because he thinks he’s the best man for the job, or is he just having a midlife crisis?

Think about it. He’s challenging his father figure, Jeb Bush, in sort of a retread of adolescence. That’s classic midlife behavior, which I compare to the way my brother and I have trouble not fighting with my Dad whenever we have to spend more than a few days together, like on those Christmas vacations we take every year. Rubio was talking about a show he used to go to in Vegas with his family as a kid called “Legends in Concert,” and said, “You know you’re getting old when the Legends in Concert are people you used to listen to in high school.” Yup, I know that one, it’s the same as me and my friends talking about how we can’t handle that the oldies stations are playing all of the music we listened to in college. He poses for selfies with people on the campaign trail and he used to like Tupac and now he says he likes Drake, obviously trying to prove he’s really not old and unhip. He’s been in six elections and never lost, so he, too, is just now learning what it’s like to not succeed at everything he’s tried. He attends both Catholic Mass and Protestant services, like he’s realizing he’s going to die someday and he wants to hedge his bets. When asked about if he might be running for president too soon, he said, “I’m not afraid of running too soon. I’m afraid of waiting too long” – totally identify with that. He’s positioning himself as a realist, someone who used to have ideals, but can’t afford them any more – totally identify with that. He’s impulse-buying new, sassy clothes. He’s reading a book on Churchill. I mean, come on, could it be any more obvious?

Rubio’s doesn’t seem like the worst way to have a midlife crisis. You could take out the angst you’re going through on the people around you, like I sometimes do, or Ted Cruz does all the time. But on some level what he’s doing makes me feel better about my behavior. I’m going to be turning 47 in less than two weeks, officially hitting my late 40s, and I’m not dealing with it very well. Last week, I was so preoccupied with the usual what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-why-can’t-I-ever-get-anything-done-is-that-yet-another-new-body-pain obsessing, I put two different sneakers in my bag to wear at work. (For those of you wondering why I have two different pairs of sneakers that look somewhat similar, it’s because one’s for hot weather and one’s for cold and that totally makes sense for my job. Really.) But no matter what crazy things might go through my head, I know I’m never going to be that crazy. Holding the highest office in this country is a terrible job to have, especially now, and I’m just not that self-destructive. 

Right now it might seem irrelevant, because Rubio’s not winning in any polls. But there is one group predicting that he’s going to win the nomination: professional gamblers who, as you might expect with people who earn a living betting on stuff, have a tendency to get this sort of thing right (one number I saw is they’ve called the presidency 91% of the time). So for all of you independent undecideds out there (and who the heck are you people anyway?), it might be a good time to think about if you want to vote for someone who decided to run for president instead of getting a 22-year-old blond girlfriend and buying a Ferrari. Sure, I identify with the guy much more now, but the last thing I want is someone going through the shit I’m going through making decisions for all of us. 

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