Monday, March 16, 2020

Biden Got It Wrong

If the importance of the Biden-Sanders feud on Social Security highlighted by Sunday night's debate in Washington, D.C. would rate as an "8" on a scale of 0 to 10, this would be no more than a "2." Still, it's worth considering this exchange:

Ilia Calderón: (01:27)
To be clear, Senator Sanders, Cuba has been a dictatorship for decades. Shouldn’t we judge dictators by the violation of human rights and not by any of their alleged achievements?

Bernie Sanders: (01:39)
Well, I think you can make the same point about China. China is undoubtedly an authoritarian society. Okay? But would anybody deny, any economists deny that extreme poverty in China today is much less than what it was 40 or 50 years ago? That’s a fact. So I think we condemn authoritarianism, whether it’s in China, Russia, Cuba, any place else. But to simply say that nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people, would I think be incorrect.

Ilia Calderón: (02:14)
Vice president Biden, you have criticized Senator Sanders for bracing Castro’s education system, but in 2016 president Obama said Cuba made “A great progress in educating young people and that its healthcare system is a huge achievement that they should be congratulated for” How is that different from what Senator Sanders has said?

Joe Biden: (02:36)
He was trying to change Cuban policies so the Cuban people would get out from under the thumb of the Castro and his brother. That is to change the policy so that we can impact on Cuba’s policy by getting them opened up. That was about, but the praising of the Sandinistas, the praising of Cuba, the praising just now of China. China is an authoritarian dictatorship. That’s what it is. We have to deal with them because they’re there.

The transcript of the speech of President Barack Obama on Monday, March 21, 2016 included

The United States recognizes the progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care. And perhaps most importantly, I affirm that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation. Cuba is sovereign and rightly has great pride and the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.

At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future. We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly and religion. Indeed, I look forward to meeting with and hearing from Cuban civil society leaders tomorrow.

These two paragraphs suggest that President Obama focused on the importance of a more liberal society in Cuba or, as Biden would put it, "opening up."  However, the President continued (and note the "but")

But as you heard, President Castro also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people and poverty and inequality and race relations, and we welcome that constructive dialogue as well because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.

A part of normalizing relationships means that we discuss these differences directly, so I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed to hold our next U.S.-Cuba human rights dialogue here in Havana this year. And both of our countries will welcome our visits by independent United Nations experts as we combat human trafficking, which we agree is a profound violation of human rights.

Well, o.k., the American system was not perfect, even before President Trump. However, the tone- and words- of equivalence are startling.  Clearly, Obama is suggesting that "mak(ing) the lives of our people better" is as much an imperative in the USA as it is in Cuba.

That is not accurate, and is in stark contrast to "trying to change Cuban policies so the Cuban people would get out from under the thumb of the Castro and his brother." Nonetheless, it gets worse with an acceptance of agree to disagree:

Even as we discuss these differences, we share a belief we can continue to make progress in those areas that we have in common. President Castro, you said in Panama that we might disagree on something today on which we would agree tomorrow. And that has certainly been the case over the past 15 months and the days leading up to this visit.

And today, I can report that we continue to move forward on many fronts when it comes to normalizing relations. We’re moving ahead with more opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and interact with the Cuban people.

Toward the end of his statement, President Obama pressed on with his emphasis on detente, friendliness, and the quaint notion that Havana and Washington aren't much different from each other. He stated

And although we didn’t have an extensive discussion of Venezuela, we did touch on the subject. And I believe the whole region has an interest in a country that is addressing their economic challenges, is responsive to the aspirations of its people and is a source of stability in the region.

That is, I believe, an interest we should all share. So, again, President Castro, I want to thank you for welcoming me. I think it’s fair to say the United States and Cuba are now engaged in many areas and with each passing day more Americans are coming to Cuba, more U.S. business and school and faith groups are working to forge new partnerships with the Cuban people.

That was not "the whole region should have an interest" in its people and regional stability. It was "the whole region has an interest...."

Maybe the President was setting the right tone. The Cold War was over- but you'd never know it from Biden's demonization of Senator Sanders for finding something a little praiseworthy in the Cuban regime. "Cuba is sovereign and rightly has great pride" did not come from democratic socialist Bernie Sanders but from the 44th President.

Early in his speech, Barack Obama had stated "the sight of a U.S. president here in Havana would have been unimaginable, but this is a new day."  Joe Biden's "new day" is this: Barack Obama was always right and when Bernie Sanders agrees with him, Sanders is wrong. If that seems to make no sense, feel free to take it up with Democratic voters and politicos who believe the former vice-president should be their standard-bearer.

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