Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2013/ 5 Adar 5773
Rubio Is in the Pit
By Roger Simon
This sometimes happens to politicians and performers — who often are the same people.
The orchestra pit metaphor comes from Roger Ailes. I interviewed him years ago when he was George H.W. Bush's media wizard and not yet head of the Fox News Channel.
The 1988 Bush-Michael Dukakis presidential race had been marked by extremely negative campaigning. Ailes claimed this was largely the fault of the press and its obsession with the negative.
"A guy plays a wonderful symphony, and at the end he falls in the orchestra pit," Ailes said. "Him falling in the pit will be the story."
"The press is part of the negative process they attack," he went on. "Is Ailes negative? Go read the headlines, and you'll see who's really negative. I knew I could always get a headline if I went negative."
Nobody pushed Marco Rubio — he stumbled on his own — but soon he was looking up from the bottom of the pit.
Rubio, a senator from Florida, gave the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. Even though Rubio is only 41 and relatively new to the national stage, he did just fine. For 11 minutes. And then he got thirsty.
Rubio was speaking live from a room at the U.S. Capitol, when he developed a dry mouth. He could have done the human thing, which would have been to stop his speech and say, "Excuse me, I need some water."
But the human thing is not what comes to mind when one is doing live TV. On live TV, one wants to do the smoothest thing one can.
So Rubio glanced off to his left to locate a bottle of water and then went back to maintaining eye contact with the audience while leaning over to pick it up.
This looked weird. Real people don't reach for things this way. A more experienced performer would have realized that sometimes it pays to look real and not like a performer.
Rubio glanced quickly at the 8-ounce bottle of Poland Spring water, grabbed it and then looked back at the camera. He took a slug, and then while still maintaining eye contact with the audience, he leaned back over to replace the bottle, glancing away momentarily to make sure he was putting the bottle on the table.
It took only a few seconds, but it was a peculiar few seconds. Usually we expect our politicians to act peculiarly only when they are off-camera.
Was this a supremely trivial event? Absolutely.
But it became Rubio's "Big Gulp" moment.
Twitter lit up with jokes and comments. Various people began tweeting from the point of view of the water bottle, and almost immediately one could see the gulp replayed in slow motion, stop-action and with running commentary. There was even a clip in which you could hear Wolf Blitzer say "uh-oh" as Rubio took the swig heard round the world.
Rubio tried to take some of the embarrassment away by tweeting his own picture of the water bottle. But the next day, the story grew, of course.
Every day, The Associated Press puts out "10 Things to Know for Today" — largely, I suspect, for pundits who go on TV and need to know at least 10 things — and Rubio's gulp came in at No. 8. (The fugitive standoff in California was No. 1, and the winner of the Westminster dog show was No. 10.)
A spokeswoman for Poland Spring declared that water was good and "the simple refreshment does what it did for Sen. Rubio last night."
You have to be a real political junkie to remember a single word Rubio uttered in his speech, but millions of people will remember him for that swig.
Wednesday, Rubio went on ABC's "Good Morning America" and told George Stephanopoulos: "I needed water. What am I going to do?" Then Rubio took out a bottle of water and drank from it. "God has a funny way of reminding us we're human," he said.
And maybe it was, as Rubio apparently believes, a religious moment.
The current issue of Time magazine has a large picture of Rubio on its cover with the headline: "The Republican Savior."
In the past, however, saviors have walked on water, not chugged it.
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