As President Obama keeps plugging away, trying to navigate a divided Congress — the most daunting of challenges, with House Republicans, in particular, uniformly committed to non-cooperation – there’s no end, correspondingly, to the pile-on of banner issues from which GOP obstructionists hope to reap political pay dirt. As we’ve noted here previously, the Affordable Care Act’s place in the pile as a major Obama-bashing gift has evidently been revised dramatically downward, now that going harshly negative on the health care fix has been shown to have serious backfire potential. But there remain a lot more on which Republicans pin hopes to score campaign points – the well-worn Benghazi story, alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups, mismanagement at the V.A. and all the rest.
In wake of the latest brouhaha for which the president earned himself some more GOP poison darts, the p.o.w swap involving Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, after a professional colleague and good friend shared with me some cogent analysis about how full of bias and hypocritical was the Republicans’ pummeling of the president for authorizing the swap, my rejoinder was that such detailed critique was wasted on Republicans’ stock reflex-action response to the Bergdahl story. It suffices to simply know this: Had George W. Bush taken precisely the same action Obama did, there would be nothing but hosannas from the GOP chorus.
Automatic rejection by Republicans of practically every initiative Obama has undertaken, even those which in another life had strong Republican legs, leaves absolutely no doubt, of course, as to what would befall an issue known to be pure acid in GOP country…among some Democrats too, one would imagine. No wonder that the president has so far refrained from acting on a suggestion reportedly pitched to him by his former secretary of state.
Among the tidbits leaked in the lead-in tease before release of the new Hillary Clinton memoir, “Hard Choices,” was that as secretary of state, she suggested to President Obama that he consider lifting the embargo on Cuba – clearly, for us, head and shoulders above anything else heard from the Amen corner attributed to Secretary Clinton. Interesting, the source of this “daredevil” conjecture. Only because we have always felt that Bill Clinton, one of the smartest guys to have occupied the White House in many moons, surely must have been convinced, while in the role, that ritualistic perpetuation of an embargo almost unanimously opposed elsewhere around the world, had to be senseless. And that if he had his druthers, he would have himself floated the idea that this relic of the Cold War era be forthwith retired.
Only, lest we forget, maybe not with quite the venom and depths of ugly that the racial component has laid bare with the sitting president, but Clinton had an army of full-time haters as well with which to contend. He too, like the current guy, was considered a White House interloper, by the elitist bunch who long ago assumed the self-styled mantle of “guardianship” of the Republic. So President Clinton, if ever he flirted with the notion of rattling the cages of characters hell bent on maintaining the Cuba embargo till kingdom come, probably considered the costs and promptly switched channels.
But now the Clinton camp draws our attention again on this nettlesome Cuba conundrum…at least for those forcibly beholden to a policy they know to have long outlived any usefulness. Do the sentiments Hillary says she conveyed to the president on Cuba reflect a strongly felt policy position she would herself pursue if given the opportunity? And what, in the way of strategy, would she bring to the table that would make a U.S. shift in Cuba policy a more viable prospect?
We’ve been for all these years in the vice grip of a tail-wagging-dog equation with respect to Cuba, where a small vested interest has exerted disproportionate national influence on how the U.S. engages Cuba. While in some quarters it’s seen as making good political sense for America to respond to Cuba today the way the Kennedy administration did back then, there’s increasing evidence that a lot more Americans aren’t of that view. There has been polling indicating a shift in attitudes, surprisingly even among residents in the Cuban-American stronghold in Florida. A survey published by the Atlantic Council registered 64 percent support for ending the embargo in that part of Florida. At some point, numbers have got to stand for something. In addition to poll numbers, there’s the emphatic message annually sent to the U.S. by the UN General Assembly where, this country has recently had but a solitary assist from Israel against the tidal wave of disapproval from the world community, whenever the embargo question is up for a vote.
Although many have concluded that Hillary Clinton has already decided to be a candidate in 2016, she insists she has not. One doesn’t want to read too much into her having broached the Cuban embargo question to the president, but it’s foolhardy all the same to treat it lightly. If she is committed to making that 2016 run, and if she is fully prepared to have the Cuban embargo conversation despite stick-in-the-mud sound and fury from the usual suspects, she has already earned plaudits from those of us flabbergasted by America’s confounding insistence on being embarrassingly out of step.