Marco Rubio's announcement address this week easily ranks as one of the most effective conservative speeches I've heard in a long time. Announcement addresses generally announce one's candidacy (duh), justify it both in terms of the needs of the times and the qualifications of the candidate, and forecast a shining future if only the American people will pull the appropriate voting lever. Rubio's address nicely accomplishes these tasks.
He chose a symbolic location for the event, Miami's Freedom Tower. It served as a processing facility for refugees from Castro's Cuba in the 1960s and it represented both Rubio's life history and the broader immigrant narrative. That story occupied the first part of the speech, as Rubio adopted a typical challenger's structure. He defined the nation as a land of opportunity, made that vision concrete (metonymy) in the story of his family, lamented the nation's current decline, and offered a bright path to a new American century. He justified his candidacy through his immigrant narrative; as Obama once did, Rubio claims to embody the nation's aspirations.
Two additional strategies marked the speech. He nicely contrasted the problems of the 21st century to the solutions of the 20th century, implicitly attack Hillary Clinton as old and outdated. The times demand a new approach. He did so, however, without making those claims explicit, which dispersed what could be the nastiness of such attacks. He nicely used narrative, showing a powerful facility for telling personal stories, and then linking those stories to broader national narratives. That ability characterized the campaign discourse of both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, two nice role models.
In addition, Rubio's stories offered a clear and succinct alternative to the current administration. It impedes opportunity; he offers it. It degrades education; he enhances it. It embodies elitism; he rejects it. He is, in nearly every possible sense, the anti-Romney.
Only one clanging note echoed throughout the speech and that was his neocon foreign policy. In all other areas, he sounded much like the legendary Reagan--eager, clear, affable, open, and inclusive. Clearly, he also tried to sound like the Cold War Reagan, accusing Democrats of appeasement and weakness. But it's a different era; Cuba is no USSR; he sounds belligerent and unpleasant, John McCain at his worst.
Of course, he'll face other problems as he goes, primary among them the ever present Republican need to tack right in the primaries and left in the general election. The ideological chasm between Republican primary voters and the general electorate has grown so large that this rhetorical task confounded both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Rubio's announcement indicates the potential to finesse that gap.