SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.

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January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Caroline Kennedy Unfairly Treated Because She’s a Woman?

I wrote earlier today about Caroline Kennedy’s poorly managed run at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s empty Senate seat. I noted that her withdrawal was likely a disservice to women in politics.

There is a perception among numerous political insiders, however, that Ms. Kennedy was treated too harshly by the media and other politicians who questioned her credibility and demeanor. In fact, their contention is that she was treated much more critically than a man would have been.

There still exists a glass ceiling in politics. In the House, 75 of the 435 members are women. In the Senate, just 17 are women. Donna Brazile, a political analyst, made an important point:

Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents[.]

One thing is certain, the margin of error for a historically disadvantaged candidate (e.g. women, African-Americans) is much smaller. When David Axelrod came on board as President Barack Obama’s chief strategist for the campaign, Axelrod made it clear to Obama that he would have to be on his game at all times. When you try to break through old customs, it is imperative to not give anyone an excuse to vote for your opponent. Unfortunately, that is the state of politics today. We have made history by electing an African-American president, but that doesn’t mean that we, as a whole, won’t be more critical of a female or African-American candidate than we would of a white one.

Kennedy’s camp should have prepared her better. She could ill afford to appear weak or unprepared, particularly in the rough setting for politics that is New York. Had she known where all the blows were coming from, perhaps we would be writing about a different result today.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Media, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Junior Senator From NY: Caroline, er, Kirsten Gillibrand

As reported in The Huffington Post, Kirsten Gillibrand will be taking over the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As for Caroline Kennedy, she really couldn’t have managed this situation more poorly.

Where She Went Wrong

She should never have courted Gov. Paterson publicly, or at least as publicly as she did. In the blink of an eye, she went from private figure/JFK’s daughter to Obama supporter to the future junior senator from New York. One day the media pundits are wondering whether she’ll make a run at the seat, and the next she’s already in upstate New York talking to the key players in New York politics. A bit fast? A bit too in your proverbial face?

She would have been wise to speak to Paterson privately, behind closed doors. There would have been less pressure on both of them, and it would have shown more political savvy. Her entrance onto the political stage was dramatic from the start, and now her political death makes for equally good theater.

The Withdrawal Effect

Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from the Senate seat is a disaster for women in politics. Even if people don’t say it, the gender issue will be on their minds. Why couldn’t she just stick it out? If she wasn’t picked, then she wasn’t picked. It would have been an unfortunate political defeat, but at least she would have saved face. She could’ve gotten more experience working alongside lawmakers and other New York public figures, and then made a run in two years when that very Senate seat is up. At that point, who would deny her? She has the Kennedy name, would’ve had her face in the news for a couple years, and would’ve had a campaign fund raising machine behind her unlike any of her competitors. That was a total lack of foresight.

Now she leaves the media to wonder what happened. A housekeeper issue? Her taxes weren’t in order? She wanted to be near her ailing uncle?

Talk about a missed opportunity.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Partisan Politics Returned After the Long Weekend

Yesterday, Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed as the new Secretary of State by a 94-2 vote. So who were the two senators who voted “no”? I found Chris Cillizza’s take on this issue fascinating.

One (Senator Vitter) is seeking reelection, while the other (Senator DeMint) wants to position himself at the forefront of a Republican Party that finds itself in disarray.

It’s amazing what a little investigative work reveals about the minds of our political leaders: in Washington, there is an interest behind every decision.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment