TIME faith

How the Vatican and Cuba Came Together

Jan. 26, 1998
Cover Credit: GERARD RANCINAN The Jan. 26, 1998 cover of TIME

John Paul II visited the island in 1998

The Vatican’s statement on Friday that Pope Francis is “considering” a visit to Cuba when he is in North America in the fall has brought new attention to the special relationship between the island nation and the Catholic leader. The Pope has been credited with encouraging the recent signs of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, something his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also spoke in favor of during a 2012 trip to Cuba.

Though Cuba has historic ties to the Catholic religion, that special relationship is really only two decades old: It was around 1995 that Fidel Castro began working on what ended up being Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

The anti-religion stance of strict Marxism had kept Cubans away from religion for decades and the crumbling of the Soviet Union only led Cuba to dig in, with hopes of proving the ideology’s endurance. At the same time, however, that period of enforcement was one of economic hardship, perhaps contributing to a rise in interest in both spiritual help and religious charity. “In 1991 Castro rescinded the ban against Christians’ joining the Communist Party,” writer Johanna McGeary explained, “and in 1992 he declared Cuba a secular, not an atheist, state.”

That change had been a long time coming:

The idea of a papal visit has actually intrigued Cuba’s leader for nearly two decades. It is not so strange as it might seem: from the very start of his revolution, Castro has sought political pilgrimages from the influential and famous as a sign of international approbation. And Castro has never feared talking to his adversaries. Although he barred Christians from the Communist Party, nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign priests and nuns, he never shut down the churches or prohibited religious worship or broke relations with the Vatican.

In 1979 Castro met some liberation-theology priests in Nicaragua and, says Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, “decided that social justice, greater equality and caring for the poor were not very different goals from those of the Cuban revolution.” So he invited the Pontiff to stop by during a Mexican tour that year, but the “technical layover” Castro offered held no appeal to John Paul II.

By 1985 it seemed to Castro that signs of nonconformity and a search for new ideas were infecting the populace. Little by little, people were going back to church. So he spent 23 hours talking to a Brazilian Dominican friar, Frei Betto. The subsequent book, Fidel and Religion, became a national best seller. Here was the apostle of Marxism expounding on his Catholic upbringing and attitudes toward religion. He recalled his devout mother and his rigorous parochial education. He had been baptized and was taught biblical history and Catholic catechism. At his upper-class Jesuit high school he absorbed the determination and discipline of these militant teachers who prophesied in his yearbook that he would make a brilliant name for himself.

While he called Christ “a great revolutionary” whose teachings coincide with the aims of socialism, Castro insisted that “no one could instill religious faith in me through the mechanical, dogmatic methods that were employed. I never really held a religious belief.” Later on, he said, “I had other values: a political belief which I forged on my own, as a result of my experience, analysis and sentiments.” Nevertheless, the rebel wore a small cross on his guerrilla garb in the early days of the revolution. In the book, he astonished Cubans with the extent of his religious knowledge and the flattering comparisons he drew between Christianity and Marxism. “Karl Marx,” he said, “would have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.” Christians, he added, had been excluded from Cuba’s government not for ideological reasons but for historical mistakes in supporting the prerevolution status quo. Suddenly the subject of religion was no longer taboo.

Castro’s goals in eventually inviting the Pope for the 1998 visit were complex, and the results at first seemed modest. Large crowds had turned out to see John Paul II but no major news was made by either side. (Another contributing factor in the lack of news made by the visit: that was the same week President Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.) But today, many years later, it’s clear that the papal visit of 1998 did change something. It restarted a relationship between Cuba and the Vatican — a relationship that just might get another chapter very soon.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Clash of Faiths

TIME conflict

Why It Took So Long for the World to See How Phnom Penh Fell

CAMBODIA-US-WAR-KHMER ROUGE
Sjoberg / AFP / Getty Images The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

The Khmer Rouge took the Cambodian capital 40 years ago

When the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communist forces, seized the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, it was no surprise. In the years since the nation had been drawn into fighting in the region, the insurgents had continued to gain power. With the end of the U.S.’s involvement on the horizon—that would come before the month was up—it seemed clear that Phnom Penh would fall sooner or later.

In fact, as TIME reported in the days after April 17, the very leaders who had pledged never to stop fighting seemed to know that there was no point in a last stand. The surrender of the Khmer Republic to the Khmer Rouge was, the magazine noted, the first time a capital city had fallen to Communist forces since Seoul in the early 1950s.

But, even though the regime change was no surprise, the world watched with apprehension to see what the nation’s new rulers would do. In that initial report, TIME noted that at first “there was none of the carnage that some government officials had predicted”—one of the main fears was that widespread retribution would be exacted—even though “there were, to be sure, some ominous notes.”

A few weeks later, it became clear that those fears were not misplaced. “The curtain of silence that has concealed Cambodia from Western eyes ever since the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom-Penh on April 17 opened briefly last week, revealing a shocking portrait of a nation in torturous upheaval,” TIME reported. “Eyewitness reports by the few Western journalists who stayed on in the Cambodian capital after the closing down of the American embassy indicated that the country’s new Communist masters have proved to be far more ruthless, if not more cruel and sadistic in their exercise of power than most Western experts had expected.”

Those eyewitness reports, as relayed by TIME, told a tale of Phnom Penh (stylized with a hyphen at the time) being emptied of its inhabitants, as urban Cambodians were forcibly relocated to grow rice in the countryside, despite the fact that there would be no rice harvest for months and there was no other plan to feed them. Foreigners who took refuge in the French embassy were stuck inside the compound, with no running water, for nearly two weeks. Cambodians among them—many married to the foreign citizens—were removed from the group before the outsiders were driven by truck to the Thai border and allowed to walk across.

The journalists among the roughly 1,000 people who escaped in that way agreed to hold their stories until everyone who would be allowed to leave was out, but by mid-May they told what they had seen.

In the years that followed, the details, as they emerged, only got more harrowing.

In 1978, David Aikman, who had been a TIME correspondent who left Cambodia mere days before Phnom Penh fell, wrote in an essay that what had happened in Cambodia since that day was “perhaps the most dreadful infliction of suffering on a nation by its government in the past three decades”:

On the morning of April 17, 1975, advance units of Cambodia’s Communist insurgents, who had been actively fighting the defeated Western-backed government of Marshal Lon Nol for nearly five years, began entering the capital of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge looted things, such as watches and cameras, but they did not go on a rampage. They seemed disciplined. And at first, there was general jubilation among the city’s terrified, exhausted and bewildered inhabitants. After all, the civil war seemed finally over, the Americans had gone, and order, everyone seemed to assume, would soon be graciously restored.

Then came the shock. After a few hours, the black-uniformed troops began firing into the air. It was a signal for Phnom Penh’s entire population, swollen by refugees to some 3 million, to abandon the city. Young and old, the well and the sick, businessmen and beggars, were all ordered at gunpoint onto the streets and highways leading into the countryside.

…The survivors were settled in villages and agricultural communes all around Cambodia and were put to work for frantic 16-or 17-hour days, planting rice and building an enormous new irrigation system. Many died from dysentery or malaria, others from malnutrition, having been forced to survive on a condensed-milk can of rice every two days. Still others were taken away at night by Khmer Rouge guards to be shot or bludgeoned to death. The lowest estimate of the bloodbath to date–by execution, starvation and disease–is in the hundreds of thousands. The highest exceeds 1 million, and that in a country that once numbered no more than 7 million. Moreover, the killing continues, according to the latest refugees.

Aikman’s essay confirmed that news of what was happening in Cambodia had reached the rest of the world, without a doubt—but, he wrote, the response confirmed that somehow knowing the truth didn’t mean believing it and responding appropriately. “In the West today, there is a pervasive consent to the notion of moral relativism, a reluctance to admit that absolute evil can and does exist,” he wrote. “This makes it especially difficult for some to accept the fact that the Cambodian experience is something far worse than a revolutionary aberration. Rather, it is the deadly logical consequence of an atheistic, man-centered system of values, enforced by fallible human beings with total power, who believe, with Marx, that morality is whatever the powerful define it to be and, with Mao, that power grows from gun barrels.”

Read the full 1978 essay, here in the TIME Vault: An Experiment in Genocide

TIME Civil Rights

Why MLK Was Jailed in Birmingham

CIVIL RIGHTS MARCH
AP Photo Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Ala., on April 12, 1963. This is the photograph that ran with TIME's original coverage of their arrests.

King wrote the famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963

In the spring of 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., it seemed like progress was finally being made on civil rights. The notoriously violent segregationist police commissioner “Bull” Connor had lost his run-off bid for mayor, and despite Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that the city was the most segregated in the nation, protests were starting to be met with quiet resignation rather than uproar.

At least that’s what TIME thought: in the April 19 issue of that year, under the headline “Poorly Timed Protest,” the magazine cast King as an outsider who did not consult the city’s local activists and leaders before making demands that set back Birmingham’s progress and drew Bull Connor’s ire. “Last week Connor and Police Chief Jamie Moore got an injunction against all demonstrations from a state court,” TIME reported. “King announced that he would ignore it, led some 1,000 Negroes toward the business district. Both King and one of his top aides, the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, were promptly thrown into jail.”

King was in jail for about a week before being released on bond, and it was clear that TIME’s editors weren’t the only group that thought he had made a misstep in Birmingham.

On the day of his arrest, a group of clergymen wrote an open letter in which they called for the community to renounce protest tactics that caused unrest in the community, to do so in court and “not in the streets.” It was that letter that prompted King to draft, on this day, April 16, the famous document known as Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

In 1967, King ended up spending another five days in jail in Birmingham, along with three others, after their appeals of their contempt convictions failed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Walker v. City of Birmingham that they were in fact in contempt of court because they could not test the constitutionality of the injunction without going through the motions of applying for the parade permit that the city had announced they would not receive if they did apply for one. The decision prompted King to write, in a statement, that though he believed the Supreme Court decision set a dangerous precedent, he would accept the consequences willingly. “Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change,” he wrote—and going to jail, and eloquently explaining why, would do just that.

Need more proof that the original letter was convincing? Though TIME dismissed the protests when they first occurred, that letter was included was included in the issue the following January in which King was named the Man of the Year for 1963. “Although in the tumble of events then and since, it never got the notice it deserved,” the magazine noted, “it may yet live as a classic expression of the Negro revolution of 1963.”

Read excerpts from the letter, which was included in Martin Luther King Jr’s Man of the Year cover story, here in the TIME Vault: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

TIME remembrance

Why Holocaust Remembrance Day Is Today

Ghetto Uprising
Keystone—Getty Images 1943: Fire breaks out during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The date marks the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The calendar year is full of dates that could be chosen for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some, like January 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, are recognized internationally. And, as Allied forces moved through Europe liberating Nazi death camps throughout early 1945, those dates continue to amass. So why is this Thursday, April 16, marked as Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States and elsewhere?

As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum explains, the date corresponds with the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which in 1943 — on April 19 in the Western calendar — marked the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Though the date may appear to move around from year to year, it’s always on that anniversary.

The once-vibrant Jewish community of Warsaw was forced into a ghetto on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 1940, stuffed into an area scarcely bigger than a square mile, deprived and diminished and finally deported, as TIME’s Lance Morrow explained in a review of a 2002 book of eyewitness accounts of the infamous ghetto. As the population of the ghetto dwindled, some who remained began to organize for combat. On April 19, 1943, as the Jewish holiday of Passover approached, Nazi forces entered the ghetto with the intention of sending all of its remaining residents to camps — only to encounter the uprising. The Jews of Warsaw managed to fight back for weeks.

It would take years before the Nazi forces were finally suppressed in Warsaw and elsewhere, but the uprising was nearly immediately a touchstone for remembrance. By 1948, on the fifth anniversary, TIME reported on one such memorial:

Last week, on the fifth anniversary of the ghetto uprising, 12,000 Jews assembled on the spot where the first shots were fired. There they dedicated a monument to the heroes of the ghetto and to the 3,500,000 other Jews killed in Poland.

Delegations of Jews from 20 nations, including the U.S., laid wreaths and banners against the monument—a wall built of broken bricks from the ghetto‘s rubble piles. Mounted in a front niche was a bronze plaque showing armed men & women straining toward freedom.

These were moving symbols to the Jews of Warsaw. But what they liked best, perhaps, was the shining granite that sheathed the monument’s wall: it was some of the Swedish granite that Adolf Hitler had ordered for his monument in Berlin.

Read the full 1948 account, here in the TIME Vault: Shining Granite

Read next: Attacks Against Jews Spiked in 2014, Israeli Researchers Say

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Economy

How April 15 Became Tax Day

Final Day For Filing Taxes
Erik S. Lesser—Getty Images A man deposits his tax return into a mailbox on the final day for filing taxes in 2001 in Atlanta

The April date has been "T-day" for 60 years

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only things certain in this world were death and taxes, but he wasn’t necessarily talking about federal income taxes. The U.S. didn’t institute such a tax until the time of the Civil War, as a temporary measure. The Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, made it possible for the federal government to tax individuals directly.

But the story of tax day doesn’t end there. In 1954, Congress passed nearly 1,000 pages of revision to the Internal Revenue Code. Though TIME noted back then that the bill didn’t really change the overall structure of the tax code, and that many taxpayers wouldn’t be included in the categories of Americans who would see a decrease in their tax bill due to the change, it did mean one big difference that every single taxpayer would feel: “T-day” would be moved to April 15:

The lawmakers rewrote and in some places tightened many provisions concerning gifts, trusts, partnerships and reorganized or liquidated corporations. They plugged a clutch of minor loopholes that some taxpayers had found profitable. They switched income-tax day from March 15 to April 15, thus giving the taxpayer an extra month to recover from Christmas expenses and sparing him the yearly ordeal of hearing and reading clichés about the ides of March.

But when 1955’s tax day rolled around, it became clear that — even if the extra month did help Americans’ wallets — the new date didn’t mean an end to tired date-based jokes. The Ides of March were no longer financially deadly but April, TIME noted with no hint of irony, is the cruelest month.

Read the full 1954 story, here in the TIME Vault: The New Tax Law

TIME Business

See Early Ads and Photographs From the McDonald’s Archives

Ray Kroc's first franchise opened 60 years ago, on April 15, 1955

Correction appended, April 17, 2015

It was 60 years ago this week, on April 15, 1955, that Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s franchise, in Des Plaines, Ill. It wasn’t the first McDonald’s restaurant (two brothers actually named McDonald had started the California-based company) but it was the first step on the road to chain-restaurant domination.

As McDonald’s enters its seventh decade, here’s a look back at images and advertisements from its first few decades — including two, numbers one and three in the slideshow above, which have never before been published outside the company. The company has changed over the years, going international, transitioning from a hamburger joint to a company that sells bed linens, making news with labor issues and breakfast menus alike. But not everything has changed: look closely at the photos of the earliest locations and you’ll notice the telltale golden arches.

Ray Kroc Opens his First McDonald's in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955
Courtesy of McDonald’s CorporationRay Kroc opens his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Ill., on April 15, 1955.

Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly identified the Des Plaines, Ill., McDonald’s as the company’s first franchise location. It was Ray Kroc’s first franchise location.

TIME politics

Abraham Lincoln’s Lesson for the 1960s

Lincoln Cover
Cover Credit: ROBERT VICKREY The May 10, 1963, cover of TIME

Was the 16th President the ultimate Organization Man?

In May of 1963, when TIME devoted a six-page, 6,600-word essay to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president — who was shot on April 14, 1865 — had been dead for nearly a century. The Emancipation Proclamation was a century old. The nation he led, TIME noted, would have been unrecognizable to him — the suburbs, the cars, the skyscrapers.

But that didn’t mean Lincoln had nothing to offer the America of the 1960s.

The central concern of the unbylined essay was the rise of the Organization Man, an idea that was at that point about a decade old. So-called after a 1956 book of that name, the Organization Man was — for better or worse — the American businessman devoted to his company and striving only for the comfortable conformity of post-war suburban life. The opposition of the Organization Man was the capital-I Individual, of which Lincoln was held up as a shining example.

Except, the essay explained, that Lincoln was also, in other ways, even as he was devoted to freedom and to change, the ultimate Organization Man. His company was the United States, and he was as loyal to it as any gold-watch-earning executive could be. He also knew that his loyalty would be worthless if he was the only one who felt it.

The lesson of Lincoln, then, was not that Individualism — though one of American culture’s most treasured values — was best. His lesson was that life was not really about the collective versus the individual. Rather, one could not exist without the other:

Abraham Lincoln’s life connects colonial America with modern America; Jefferson died when Lincoln was 17, Woodrow Wilson was eight when Lincoln died. While America was fighting its war, the greater battle of the modern world was already joined.

John Stuart Mill had finished his essay “On Liberty,” in which he expressed the horror with which 19th century liberalism regarded the state, and enunciated the magnificent principle that “if all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion,” mankind would still not be justified in silencing him. Yet at that very time, Karl Marx was writing Das Kapital, striking back at liberal individualism in the name of mankind. For the industrial worker, argued Marx, had been “reduced to a mere fragment of a man, mentally and physically dehumanized,” and only collective action, state action, could redress his wrongs.

Thus began the long Marxist offensive that eventually led to Communism and fascism. Just as the U.S. had succeeded in tempering and transforming the forces that became the French Revolution, it tempered and transformed the Socialist Revolution. America had its age of ruggedly individualistic businessmen, when popularizers turned Darwin’s theory of natural selection into a doctrine of economic predestination, according to which the damnation of the weak was a law of nature. But out of this era grew the sometimes uneasy partnership between business and government that in effect built a capitalist welfare state and an almost universal middle class society.

This is the central fact about the individual today. The life now led by Americans (and to a great extent by Europeans) was made possible only through industrial, and organized, civilization. Hence what is often denounced as regimentation of the individual is the price paid for giving virtually every individual a chance to live a wider, longer, richer life.

Read the full 1963 essay, here in the TIME Vault: Lincoln and Modern America

TIME remembrance

How Günter Grass Acknowledged His Controversial Past

April 13, 1970, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: ISADORE SELTZER Gunter Grass on the April 13, 1970, cover of TIME

The author has died at 87

Günter Grass—the German writer who died on Monday at 87—was known for much of his life for the success of his books, for his Nobel Prize, for his defining place in the conflicted cultural world of the divided post-war Germany. In later years,his admission that he had served in the Waffen-SS and his publication of a poem critical of Israel changed his reputation.

As an April 13, 1970, TIME cover story about the author—dated precisely 45 years before his death—pointed out, Grass had made his name partially for his willingness to blur the line between art and politics, a line that had been strictly observed by traditional German literature. In the West Germany of the time, he was an outspoken supporter of Willy Brandt; his work was often seen as an admonition to those who would sweep the country’s past under the rug in the name of moving forward. “He too has done his demonic best to break up all the going German rhythms, from the marching-to-destiny beat of Deutschland über Alles to the amnesiac waltz of postwar prosperity,” the piece said, comparing him to the protagonist of his most famous work, The Tin Drum. “In three war novels he has drummed: Remember! Remember! REMEMBER!”

Even then, Grass did not deny that he was involved with the Nazi party during the war. And as the article laid out, he was a true believer, not merely going along to get along:

Grass has succinctly outlined his own journey into that nightmare: “At the age of ten, I was a member of the Hitler Cubs; when I was 14, I was enrolled in the Hitler Youth. At 15, I called myself an Air Force auxiliary. At 17, I was in the armored infantry.” Grass left Danzig as a soldier in 1944. He was wounded on April 20, 1945, and the end of the war found him in a hospital bed at Marienbad. He was one of the first Germans to be marched through Dachau for a whiff of what the infernal was really like. He has not forgotten.

…Call those the live-or-die years. Grass characters are nothing if not survival artists, and Grass survived. He estimates that 80% of the Danzig he knew was bombed out. He had to abandon, naturally, the patriotic ideology he once held as a self-styled “dutiful youth.” Like Mahlke, the schoolboy hero of Cat and Mouse, he once could identify most German warships by class. Unlike Mahlke, Grass admits: “I myself was thinking right up to the end in 1945 that our war was the right war.”

How did a grocer’s son from Danzig ever put together the nerve, the innocence, the cold fury, the sheer talent to play tin drummer to the most traumatic decade in modern history? The general pattern was one of slow maturing and lots of retreat time in the desert—the training rules of artists and saints.

At the time, despite that past, his intellectual evolution earned him a comparison to a saint; his political stance allowed the world to see him as an example of how the nation could properly acknowledge and progress from its Nazi past. But his “succinct” version of his time during the war years glossed over the extent of his involvement, which he eventually revealed in his 2006 memoir.

Considering he had made his name urging his country to remember—for example, that cover story pointed out, in his 1963 Dog Years he had written of “magic spectacles that allowed postwar German children to see exactly what their innocent parents were actually doing between 1939 and 1945″—the fact that he had did not completely described his own history earlier was devastating to his reputation. Amid the outrage, Grass said that he was still coming to terms with the past during those intervening years. When TIME lauded his “slow maturing,” that process had still been unfinished.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: The Dentist’s Chair as an Allegory of Life

TIME movies

How a Photo Reveals an Early Encounter Between Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth

See a clip from the HBO documentary 'Living With Lincoln'

It was 150 years ago this week, on April 14, 1865, mere days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, that President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. The act put an end to the life of one of history’s most revered men.

As shown in the exclusive clip above, a photograph from the time provides evidence for a claim that circulated in the days following the crime: that Booth was actually within firing range of the president during Lincoln’s second inauguration, about a month before the assassination actually took place.

That proof of a near-miss is just one of the ways that photographs have illuminated Lincoln’s story. In the HBO documentary Living With Lincoln, from which this exclusive clip is taken, Peter Kunhardt explores his family’s history collecting Lincoln artifacts and photographs like this one—a hobby, obsession and calling that has come down through the generations for a century and a half. The Kunhardt family’s collection has contributed to the ways the world remembers Lincoln—their pictures include the portraits used to design the penny and the five-dollar bill—and also links the 16th President to, oddly enough, LIFE Magazine and the children’s book Pat the Bunny.

Living With Lincoln premieres on HBO on April 13.

TIME politics

How a Hug Jump-Started Marco Rubio’s Career

Marco Rubio
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Marco Rubio speaks about Cuba during a Cuban Independence Day Celebration at the InterContinental Hotel May 23, 2008, in Miami

The Florida Senator was helped along by a politically perilous PDA

Monday promises to be a big day for Marco Rubio: the Florida Senator has said that he’ll announce whether he plans to run in the next election, and for what.

It was only a little more than five years ago that Rubio took the big risk that brought him to the precipice of a potential presidential candidacy. He had spent nearly a decade in the Florida state legislature but, in mid-2009, was not in office. In mid 2009, Florida’s governor Charlie Crist seemed to have the race locked up to become Florida’s next Senator. Then, after Barack Obama won the White House, Crist appeared at an event with the new President and exchanged a hug.

Rubio, as TIME’s David von Drehle recounted in a 2010 cover story about the changing Republican party, saw his chance:

Another Florida Republican had a different idea. His name was Marco Rubio. He was the baby-faced former speaker of the Florida legislature. Well-wired Floridians knew that Rubio was thinking about challenging Crist for a seat in the U.S. Senate, and they also knew that this was quixotic because Crist had at least a 30-point lead in the polls, plus friends and money and endorsements from powerful Republicans around the country.

But Rubio saw an opportunity in that hug. If one possible Republican strategy was to embrace the Democratic spending agenda, surely there was a case to be made for opposing it. Rubio decided to “stand up to this Big Government agenda, not be co-opted by it,” and three months after The Hug, tossed his hat into the ring. The date was May 5, 2009.

Looking back, that was the day the 2010 election truly began–not just the campaign for a Senate seat from Florida but the broad national campaign for control of Congress and the direction of the country. Rubio’s decision to wage a philosophical battle for the soul of the Florida GOP was a catalyst for the surprising and outrageous events that followed. He became a darling of the nascent Tea Party movement and a point man in the movement’s purge of the GOP establishment. Rubio led the way for a dust-kicking herd of dark-horse candidates–some thoroughbreds, some nags. And most of all, Rubio symbolized the fact that this year’s midterms have become a referendum on such fundamental issues as the role of government and the size of the public debt.

Crist eventually dropped out of the Republican field to run as an Independent, but it was too late. Rubio won the Senate seat and was catapulted to the top rung of the Republican Party.

Read the 2010 cover story, here in the TIME archives: Party Crashers

Read next: Republican Candidates Didn’t Just Talk Guns at NRA Event

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