Failed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney once had this to say to young people.
"We've always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business."
It was another in a long series of gaffes from someone who truly didn't understand how many, perhaps even most, Americans live and work. It was something we thought of immediately while reading a New York Times piece on Marco Rubio's finances.
Rubio's parents emigrated from Cuba. His father worked as a bartender and then a crossing guard until he retired. His mother was a housekeeper and then worked at Kmart. Rubio could not borrow anything from them and instead had to take out a large loan to go to college and then law school.
After he graduated, Rubio had some success in both the political and legal fields and he made some questionable financial decisions. According to the Times, he bought a big house for his family, leased a nice car, bought a second home for his mother and went in with a fellow legislator on a third house in Tallahassee. Rubio has since sold the Tallahassee house at an $18,000 loss.
However, Rubio's ambition and hard work have, for the most part, paid off. He defeated Charlie Crist to become a U.S. senator, wrote an autobiography (a must for all presidential candidates) and was paid $800,000 for the book. He used that money to pay off the rest of his student loans and to buy an $80,000 boat.
In other words, he did what a lot of Americans would do in his situation; he eliminated his debt and bought something nice for himself.
The Times takes great pains to point out how disappointed most accountants and financial planners are with Rubio's decisions.
However, while there certainly are those who take pride in large savings accounts and wise financial decisions there also are plenty of us who choose otherwise, who splurge on things that we want more than we need. If people were less emotional and more rational about money whole industries in this country (including the financial planning industry) would disappear overnight.
Certainly, Rubio made other decisions (or mistakes) that deserve the attention of the electorate. As The Times noted, Rubio used the GOP credit card to pay for a trip and for a pavement project at his house. Rubio said the travel agent was to blame for the trip and that he accidentally pulled out the wrong credit card when he paid the pavers. Regardless, he paid the money back in both instances.
The scolds say that Rubio's lack of financial management skills in his personal budget make him unfit to run the federal budget. If he can't stay out of the red in his home life how will he ever get the federal government into the black?
They fall into the same trap everyone does about the federal budget by equating it to a household budget. It's not. Every item in the federal budget has a constituency that will fight tooth and nail to protect their piece of the pie.
Meanwhile, the Rubios can solve their financial woes by eliminating some spending, selling some of their assets or finding a better job in the private sector. None of those things require negotiating with Congress.
Mostly, we see this story as good news for Rubio's presidential prospects. If this is all the opposition has on him then you probably can expect to see him go deep into the primaries. And, at that point, all that will matter is whether or not Rubio can connect with the voters.
If he can't, well, at least he can relax on a nice boat.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD