WHY NOT GO ALL THE WAY?

WHY NOT GO ALL THE WAY? Barack Obama is getting some flak from his opponents for coming out in favor of some mild alterations in the Cuba embargo. So my question is, why not go all the way and advocate ending the embargo completely?

But we can't annoy those Cuban-American voters, can we? Gotta prove we're tough on Castro! The collective cowardice from both parties on this issue is truly stunning. If there was ever a policy that we can all agree has been a complete failure, it's this one. Anyone who thinks that after 45 years, if we just hold out a little longer we'll crush Fidel's will, has to be insane. And the only voters who care so much about this that they'll vote against anyone who opposes the embargo are aging Cuban exiles who are utterly devoted to the Republican Party anyway.

Here's a golden opportunity for Obama to show that new thinking he keeps telling us about. What if he said this: "After 45 years, we know the embargo is not working. My opponents are too afraid of losing a few votes to tell you the truth. But I'm not afraid. I will tell you the truth. Let's do what we're doing with China: engage the Cubans, trade with them, show them the virtues of capitalism and democracy. I'd like to see any of my opponents tell us just how continuing a policy that has failed for nearly half a century is in our interest or the interest of the Cuban people. This is why the public gets cynical about politics: when politicians won't do what they know is right because they're scared they'll lose a few votes. That's the kind of politics we need to put behind us." And so on. Not only would he be praised in editorial pages across the land for his courage, it would dovetail perfectly with the rest of his message.

And if Obama doesn't have the guts, why doesn't somebody else pick up the ball? John Edwards could say, "Barack keeps talking about change, but he won't even come out against the failed Cuba embargo."

The reason the candidates can't see the political advantage in this is that they're still taking a reductionist view of the electorate and their own candidacies. They look at an issue like this and say, the only voters who care about the embargo are the ones that favor it, so there's no advantage in opposing it. But doing so communicates something about who you are -- brave, innovative, etc. -- to everyone, whether this is their most important issue or not. It's a political winner. Too bad none of the Democrats see it.

-- Paul Waldman

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