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Conditions now right, politicians emerge like cicadas

By Frank Cerabino
Cox Newspapers

To understand political leaders these days, it helps to consider the cicada.

Lately I’ve been thinking about cicadas, those swarming, noisy inch-long insects with red eyes, black bodies and translucent orange wings. That’s because this spring is a monumental time for them.

At least for those in what is called Brood II. Right now, the billions of cicadas in that brood are burrowed under the soil sucking tree roots over much of the Eastern Seaboard from Connecticut to North Carolina.

For 17 years, they’ve been under the ground in this invisible form. But when the temperature of the soil in those areas warms up to 64 degrees at 8 inches below the surface, the cicadas will suddenly make their move.

It’s a rapid, breathtaking evolution, and billions of them migrate to the surface, going from a larval nymph to an adult flying insect, shedding their shells and taking their show to trees, where they begin a four- to six-week frenzied period of loud mating followed by death.

It’s helpful to think of today’s political leaders as cicadas – for they act in the very same way.

Florida’s two U.S. senators are the ultimate cicadas.

Let’s start with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now widely viewed as the most important player for immigration reform in America.

Rubio’s political life began as a young law school graduate working on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996, which was the last time the Brood II cicadas showed up.

For the next 16 years, Rubio’s views on immigration reform remained subterranean and dormant, as he sucked on the roots of Republican political orthodoxy. Any pathway to citizenship for Hispanic immigrants who were here illegally was called an unacceptable form of “amnesty.”

But the reelection of President Barack Obama in November provided the mud chimney pathway for Rubio to evolve, causing him to emerge from his intellectual slumber, and to shed his larval shell for a brightly colored set of wings and the noisy vibrating tymbal membranes that announced to the world that his time had arrived.

“Conservatism’s always been about common sense,” Rubio now says.

His use of the word ”amnesty” was shed for his adult-stage language of “a way forward” to describe his sudden urge to find a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s cicada transformation has been even more dramatic.

Nelson first got a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1979, which coincided with another Brood II cicada emergence.

For the next 34 years – two cicada generations – Nelson’s views on gay marriage were rooted in the Democratic Party’s cowardly acquiescence to theological pressures that trumped any notions of equality or decency.

Two weeks ago, Nelson was reiterating his opinion that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

And then last week, he suddenly sprouted some orange translucent wings.

”If we are endowed by our creator with rights, then why shouldn’t those be attainable by gays and lesbians?” Nelson said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. ”Simply put, if the Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn’t and I won’t.”

Nelson’s cicada moment, like Rubio’s, is really a matter of science. It’s just political science instead of natural science. Just as the cicadas have to gauge the proper temperature of the soil to emerge, so do so-called leaders.

And like the cicadas, they go through long dormancy periods as a way to confound predators. It’s only when the conditions are right, that they give us a brief glimpse at what the adult form looks like.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: frank_cerabino@pbpost.com.
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