As a Miami native, I’ve seen the pattern more than once. Democratic candidates, especially presidential hopefuls, would go to vote-rich South Florida, bash Castro, defend the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and hope to pick up at least some support from Cuban-American voters who’ve traditionally allied with Republicans.
Democrats who were skeptical of the old, ineffective U.S. policy towards Cuba might be willing to express concerns, but they’d do so quietly, far from the Sunshine State, and hope that Miami didn’t notice.
With this in mind, it’s genuinely amazing to see how much American politics has changed over a short period of time. Not only has President Obama restored full diplomatic relations with the island nation – one of his more important foreign-policy accomplishments – but msnbc reported that Hillary Clinton wants to end our economic embargo, too.
Hillary Clinton will call for lifting the trade embargo on Cuba Friday in a speech in the backyard of two pro-embargo Republican presidential candidates.In a speech at Florida International University in Miami, Clinton will call on Congress to lift the 50-year-old embargo on the island nation, and attack Republican arguments in favor of the blockade failed policies of the past, her campaign said Wednesday.
The fact that this is happening in Miami makes the speech that much more extraordinary. It wasn’t long ago that this scenario was simply unthinkable – a competitive Democrat wouldn’t deliver this speech anywhere, least of all South Florida. The very idea would be seen as electoral suicide.
But not anymore. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said this week that Clinton’s position is an example of “political expediency.”
I can’t speak to Clinton’s motives, but even Bush’s criticism is unintentionally fascinating – politically expedient positions, practically by definition, tend to be adopted because they’re popular. In other words, the Republican presidential candidate is effectively arguing, “Clinton wants to lift the Cuba embargo because a lot of voters will agree with her.”
Note to Team Jeb: that doesn’t sound like criticism.
There’s no shortage of broader angles to Clinton’s remarks at FIU today. For example, the candidate’s political director, Amanda Renteria, talked to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent about Clinton using this opportunity to paint Republicans as the party of the past. Politico’s Marc Caputo, formerly of the Miami Herald, also had a good piece this morning, noting Clinton making history in two ways: “[S]he’ll be the first presidential candidate to make the demand in the heart of Miami’s Cuban-exile community and she’ll be exorcising a political ghost from her family’s past. It was her husband, President Bill Clinton, who signed the embargo into federal statute in the first place.”
The latter point refers to the Helms-Burton Act, passed by Congress in 1996, which tightened existing policy. It was signed into law, grudgingly, by then-President Bill Clinton, who saw Florida as key to his re-election prospects.
And therein lies the point. Two decades ago, national Democrats believed their electoral futures were dependent on sticking to the old status quo on Cuba – and any steps towards progressive change would be devastating. Two decades later, national Democrats believe the exact opposite, prompting complaints from Republicans that the Democratic line is too popular.
It’s easy to forget sometimes how much American politics has changed in the Obama era, but it seems like yesterday that U.S. leaders refused to support marriage equality, refused to consider talks with Iran, refused to endorse criminal-justice reforms, and refused to break with a failed U.S. policy towards Cuba. Now, these positions are normal, barely raising an eyebrow from voters, the media, and the political establishment.
It’s a new day. Don’t take it for granted.