Photo of the day

Pretty cool gallery of WWII color photos.  Just love the old-school color palette in all these.

More Cuba

Really nice piece by Ben Bishin in the Monkey Cage about the changing politics of Cuba within the United States.  There’s a lot of really good stuff in there, but one thing that really stands out to me is this:

For decades following Castro’s ascent, a relatively small group of intense and powerful Cuban exiles effectively dictated U.S. policy toward Cuba. [emphasis mine] Facing little opposition, they leveraged their political and economic resources along with the geographic advantage of being located in a key swing state to demand compliance from politicians of both parties. Fromtraining private militias to invade Cuba, and attacking those who spoke publicly against them, to threatening members of Congress with primary challenges if they did not support their positions, their goal was to bring down the Castro government by any means necessary.

As I explain every time I teach Intro to American Government, an intense political minority beats an apathetic political majority pretty much every time.  And that is exactly what we have seen with Cuba.  But fortunately, this intense minority has been getting smaller and smaller and literally dying off whereas the majority is growing, and maybe even growing in intensity.

NPR had a nice recent piece on the changing public opinion:

Florida International University in Miami has been polling Cuban-Americans since 1991. Back then, 87 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the embargo, but after President Obama was elected in 2008, that shifted completely. For the first time in the poll’s history, most Cuban-Americans said they disapproved of the U.S. embargo.

By 2011, that Obama effect had disappeared, Professor Guillermo J. Grenier, a co-principal investigator of the FIU Cuba Poll, told us. But in the 2014 poll, conducted this summer, a majority once again favored lifting the embargo.

Here’s a few numbers from that poll:

— 68 percent of respondents favor restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.

— Among younger respondents, 90 percent of respondents favor restoring diplomatic ties. [emphasis mine]

— When you include only registered voters, 51 percent of them support continuing the embargo.

Paul Gronke shared this NYT story on FB and had the very appropriate comment:

Dueling stories in the NY Times. In the first, every single quote is from someone 65 years or older or an elected official. The second features Cubans in their 40s and 50s who already travel regularly to the island. Which is the future?

As for the NYT story, I loved this bit of analysis from a PS Professor:

“Much of the opposition is a knee-jerk reaction to change that plays to their political constituencies in Florida, especially the older generation,” said Bruce M. Bagley, a professor at the University of Miami whose specialty is United States-Latin America relations and who has visited Cuba on nine occasions.

While many of the exiles have good cause to be deeply upset with the Castros, Professor Bagley said, their anger has produced nothing tangible to alter the situation in Cuba.

“It is a visceral hatred on their part,” he said. “They lost their country, their property, their family status. This is what has motivated them since 1959, and it drives them still. They are impermeable on this. They simply cannot be reasoned with. Fifty-four years of failure doesn’t faze them a bit — their hatred remains alive and burning.”

A great example of how irrational politics can be– in this case irrational hatred which trumps all reasonable analysis of policy alternatives.

Getting back to Bishin, he also nicely elucidates the very smart politics for Obama and the Democrats on the issue:

Importantly, today’s political cleavages also serve to free Obama’s hand on the issue. Nationally, Republicans have been divided on the issue, as Midwestern agricultural interests along with some business-oriented Republicans support relaxing restrictions in order to open Cuban markets to U.S. agricultural products. (While foodstuffs can already be sold to Cuba under humanitarian exemptions to the embargo, restrictions precluding the issuance of credit have limited these sales as Cuban cash is in short supply). The recent elections likely lowered these costs even further as the Democrats lost Rep. Joe Garcia’s seat — the one Democrat who might conceivably be punished for the policy change.  In essence, Obama enacted a policy supported by most Democrats that should facilitate these more recent immigrants embrace of the Democratic Party, while making salient an issue that divides Republicans. In this sense, like his bold announcement of support for gay marriage, Obama got in front of an issue on which opinion had already flipped.

In the end, this is just a really great example of how even as political opinion has gradually shifted to the sensible policy, an entrenched minority and the politicians who kowtow to them have remained way disproportionately influential.  I don’t think this issue is going to lose elections for Republicans, but at this point the knee-jerk embrace of the position of the ever-smaller group of exiles is not going to do them any favors.

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