There are plenty of reasons to be cross with President Barack H. Obama. Glad-handing with Raul Castro—the Fredo Corleone of Cuba's ruling Castro family—isn't one of them.
Everybody who thinks they're everybody—that is to say, the political Twittersphere, the Washington blue-suit crew, and the TV-time news fillers—spent this morning pitching a fit about the fact that while at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, America's commander in chief gave a warm welcome to Castro, an old man who allegedly runs the freakshow simulacrum of governance that is the Marxist-Leninist Republic of Cuba.
For a while, it seemed this view was so marginal as to require little actual reflection. Only tea party bears of small mind actually seemed to care. But then came the prominent conservatives for whom Cuba circa 1961 represents the colorful apogee of straw bogeymen. Sen. John McCain, R-Depends, led the charge:
"It gives Raul some propaganda to continue to prop up dictatorial, brutal regime, that's all it is," the Arizona Republican insisted. "Why should you shake hands with somebody who's keeping Americans in prison?"
"I mean, what's the point?" he added. "Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler."
Never mind that McCain loves hanging at despots' cribs himself. Never mind the decades-old absurdity of a former Vietnam bomber pilot inveighing on the brutality of regimes. Simply understand that when McCain says a thing, it must immediately become the stuff of expanded coverage in the middle mind's preferred "smart" TV and print outlets.
Raul Castro is a lot of things. He is a sonofabitch, to be sure. But he is no Adolf Hitler. He is not effectual enough to be Adolf Hitler. Even if he had the organizational skills of an Adolf Hitler, which he demonstrably doesn't, he probably wouldn't kill millions of the same people in the same way that Hitler did, because Hitler was a special phylum of committed lunatic. Hitler comparisons only expose the comparer's inability to utilize taxonomic reasoning in the way that humans were designed to, like an immature tree sloth trying vainly to work a bandsaw with its penis.
But the sheer smarmy concern-trolling of McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio, the knight-errant who is currently trying to emulate McCain's jowls, is stultifying. "I thought that if he was going to be there and he was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about these basic freedoms that Mandela is associated with that are systematically denied in Cuba," said the fearless junior Florida senator, who earlier this week demurred—again—when asked whether it's okay to believe the universe is mere millennia old, vice science.
Amid the concern-trolling, nobody, but nobody, pointed out what happened immediately after the Castro encounter: the warm shake and cheek-pecks that Obama proceeded to share with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, even though the former campus leftist has scorched Obama in the press for months, ever since Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which the NSA spies on Brazil's government. Here was Dilma's chance to stick it to Obummer, to look him in the eyes in real life and offer him but a small part of the tongue-lashing that she's reserved for him in press releases and leaks.
Instead, it was all smiles and grins. Because politicians are elites. Whether they are anointed communists or democrats or former student demonstrators or ex-prisoners of war, they are privileged people with perks, and they have more in common with each other than with us.
Of course they shake hands and laugh. Of course they don't knock each other over the heads and argue about the political and cultural differences that their tribes supposedly think are important—differences that are not primordial or even all that palatable, but are largely mixed and boiled and poured down our throats by domestic politicians—like McCain and Rubio here, or Rousseff and Castro there—for personal gain.
Nixon shook hands with Mao. FDR and Stalin and Churchill spent so much time together in the early 1940s that they could practically have given each other happy endings, and we could be both unsurprised and undisappointed by it. (Thanks for the successful campaign against Hitlerism, guys.) And Reagan and Gorbachev, and Carter and Sadat and Begin, and Rumsfeld and Saddam.
We haven't even been that pissed off at Cuba for a generation or three. The original exiles to America, they of the Bay of Pigs and Alpha 66, they're dying off. Elian Gonzalez, he's 20 now, and he just left Cuba for the first time since floating across the Straits of Florida and bringing us a ruckus in 2000, and you probably didn't notice, because Cuba is a small island with a sandy midcentury punchline of a socialist government and nobody in America cares anymore, except to wonder why in hell we still have an embargo that keeps families divided and Cubans poor.
This is not a tempest in a teapot. That's an insult to storms and steeping-drink receptacles alike. This is another excuse for powerful politicians to use power politics to try to beat other powerful politicians so that the the former powerful politicians can acquire the powerful political privileges currently enjoyed by the latter powerful politicians. Stop fucking falling for it.
The powerful, they're not like you and me, you see. They're powerful.
[Photo credit: AP]