If there’s one thing I can’t stomach in politicians, it’s spineless toadying to special interests. Couple that with spineless failure to honor their principles. And did I mention flip-flops?
Speaking of which, Senator Paul D. Ryan , Mitt Romney ’s vice-presidential running mate, last Saturday displayed the most abject cronyism and craven lack of principle when he genuflected to Miami ’s arch right-wing Cuban-American lobby.
As a young congressman from a largely rural Wisconsin  district, Ryan was once a committed opponent of the U.S. embargo  against Cuba . Here’s what he had to say in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  a decade ago:
“If we think engagement works well with China , well, it ought to work well with Cuba. The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union  existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it's become more of a crutch for Castro  to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo.”
In the 2002 interview, Ryan also stated the "more we have a free exchange of people and ideas and customs, the more the people of Cuba will be exposed to the values of freedom and liberty."
Cool! It sounds like he supports lifting travel restrictions.
He added that he disagreed with Cuban-Americans who "have their reasons" for supporting the embargo. “I just don’t agree with them and never have,” said Ryan.
In 2008 (again with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Ryan reiterated his views: "If we're going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?"
Well, now there’s a presidential election to win, and that means winning Florida … which, according to conventional wisdom, means pandering to the most powerful force in South Florida Republican politics—the hard-line anti-Castro voters.
Thus, Ryan made a pilgrimage to the Versailles Restaurant  (long famous as a gathering place for the anti-Castro movement) in Miami’s Little Havana —the heart of the Cuban exile community—and did a 180-degree flip.
Ryan explained his mea culpa as being based on ignorance. His "understanding of Cuba had evolved under [the] long tutelage" of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart  and his brother (and successor as U.S. Representative for Florida’s 21st District) Mario Diaz-Balart , and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen , the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee  and a take-no-prisoners die-hard opponent of any rapprochement with Castroite Cuba.
“I learned from these friends, from Mario, from Lincoln, from Ileana, just how brutal the Castro regime is, just how this president's policy of appeasement is not working,” Ryan said in Miami. ”They've given me a great education, lots of us in Congress, about how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime,” he added, calling for more of a 50-year-old failed policy.
If Ryan had been getting an unbiased, objective opinion, his about face could perhaps be excused. But from Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balarts? Give me a break!
Thus Ryan’s cringe-worthy promise to “not keep practicing [President Obama ’s] policy of appeasement. All it has done is rewarded more despotism.”
Of course, Florida’s powerful Republicans were on hand to praise Ryan’s fighting words at Versailles, including Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balarts, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush  (who previously served as Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign manager).
In front of a cheering crowd, Ryan denounced the Obama administration for making it too easy for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba and to send money to family there.
And this from the party that is supposed to represent more freedom and less government intrusion in Americans lives!
To close, Ryan vowed that a Romney-Ryan administration would be “tough on Castro.”
Meanwhile, a Ryan aide further explained the senator’s evolution, stating that as a Wisconsin representative, Ryan had previously viewed the embargo issue through the prism of his Wisconsin farming constituents worried about export markets for agricultural products. Now, the aide continued, Ryan supports the embargo for its “national security implications.”
Er… isn’t this election supposed to be about the economy? Read: more exports, more jobs. And what national security threat does Cuba possibly pose to the USA?
To me, the sound I heard in Miami last Saturday was that of a rusty old saw. Or a hypcrite. Or both.
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