The news out of Trinidad and Tobago this morning has Obama signalling a new beginning in Western Hemisphere relations, including with Cuba and Venezuela. The GOP will react by refighting the Cold War, complete with sugar cane to go with the teabags. That will further alienate independent voters. Republican FAIL again.
Commentary By: Steven Reynolds
It’s going to be Cuba, folks. The GOP is going to get a bunch in their underwear about Barack Obama working to change the direction of US policy towards Cuba. There’s a photo on virtually every front page int he country today with Barack Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Obama recently eased restrictions on the long, long economic embargo of Cuba. That’s enough ammunition for the whack jobs in the GOP to seize on this. Perhaps the sex-crazed teabagging didn’t alienate enough independent voters (MSNBC has video), so they’ll work this issue. From the Washington Post we have a glimpse of yesterday’s actions, which will spark the faux Republican outrage:
“The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba,” Obama countered in his own speech. “I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day.” Earlier this week, Obama lifted restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban Americans.
The administration has been careful to accompany its outreach to Cuba with demands that the government allow more political and personal freedoms before the embargo is lifted. “They’re certainly free to release political prisoners,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday. “They’re certainly free to stop skimming money off the top of remittance payments as they come back to the Cuban island. They’re free to institute a greater freedom of the press.”
But events appeared to be outpacing the administration’s efforts to adjust its Cuba policy on its own terms. Earlier yesterday, the secretary general of the Organization of American States said he would ask its membership to readmit Cuba – ejected in 1962 at U.S. urging – when that organization meets next month. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to lift all travel restrictions and ease the embargo.
And it was not at all clear that Cuba is ready to grasp the olive branch Obama is extending.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that a reported willingness by Cuban President Ra–ºl Castro to discuss “everything” with the United States was a “welcome overture.” Her comments followed news accounts from Cuba that quoted Castro as expressing willingness to talk with the United States about “human rights, press freedom, political prisoners, anything they want to discuss,” as long as it was a conversation between “equals” that respected Cuba’s sovereignty.
There we have it, Obama reaching out to mend fences and begin with a new relationship with Cuba. His handshake with Hugo Chavez can be seen in the same light. There’s nothing here, though, to indicate that Barack Obama is giving away the store or anything. He’s simply showing himself and his administration as ready to improve those relations, and he’s getting at least a glimmer of positive response from Chavez and Castro. How could the Republicans possibly try to exploit that? Well, you can bet they will.
The Republican teabagging debacle played to the Republican whackjob base and alienated independents partly because of its ludicrous imagery and the whackjobs it attracted, but it also alienates because with its rallying against supposed socialism it is fighting the Cold War again, 20 years after the Cold War ended. The only vestige we have of the Cold War now is the relationship the US holds towards Cuba and Venezuela. Just take a look at how Presidents of the past dealt with Cuba. The results have been almost no change in Cuba, and a hardening of the radicals on the subject. But, hey, those radicals on the subject of Cuba are already voting Republican, and the small “c” notion of conservatism suspicious of change of any kind is a notion they embrace, even when conservative voices such as The Economist in December called for change in the US stance towards Cuba:
All this means that for the Castros, Barack Obama may turn into a far more formidable foe than his predecessors. The danger starts with his example: after all, a young, black, progressive politician has no chance of reaching the highest office in Cuba, although a majority of the island’s people are black. Mr Obama has already promised to reverse the restrictions on remittances and travel by Cuban-Americans imposed by Mr Bush. Once he is in office, the new president should go further and urge Congress to lift the embargo altogether. It is wrongheaded and ineffective. If it went, Cubans would know they had nobody except their rulers to blame for their plight.
That’s good policy thinking there. 50 years of the US embargo on Cuba has done nothing, so why not make a change, show the Cuban people what change means to them and their lives? There’s a lot of chance for success here, and the next three and a half years could see a thaw in relations where tourism flourishes in Cuba and Americans in general come to embrace happier relations with the country. Oh, the Republicans will howl that easing the embargo and encouraging tourism will put money in Cuba’s economy, but they’ll appeal only to the GOP base, and will alienate independents, if this issue shows up on the radar screen of anyone at all but the Republican base.
That’s the bottom line, I suppose. The Republicans will try to fight the Cold War all over again by whining about Obama’s attempts to change policy towards Cuba. Not a doubt about that. The leaders of the Republican Party, Hannity and Limbaugh and Gingrich and G. Gordon Liddy, will whine and howl, but nobody really cares besides the hardcore Republican base. Sure, much of that base consists of Cuban-Americans in Florida, but I’m thinking even they will be won over eventually as they are able to visit relatives and see their homeland. And surely the Cuban-Americans do not rive the Latino vote in this country, not if you look at the results of the last Presidential race.
The big thing is that the Republicans will stand foursquare in the way of progress and reconciliation on this issue as just another facety of their “Just Say No” agenda. They’ll likely put together sugar cane parties to go with the teabagging (is there a sexual innuendo to go with “sugar cane?”). Mojitos will be downed among Republicans, or poured into the Miami harbor, or whatever, and independent voters will be turned off.
Ah, Republicans are so predictable!