A good answer. But a surprising answer in that Buttigieg is clearly playing to win even though he’s the one guy left in the race who doesn’t need to play to win.
And almost certainly can’t win, no matter how hard he plays.
Watch, then read on:
“Why are we spotlighting the literacy programs of a brutal dictator, instead of being unambiguous in our condemnation about the way he has treated his own people?” – Pete Buttigieg on Sanders’ praise for Fidel Castro’s efforts to spread literacy in Cuba https://t.co/gLtSkaAtkK pic.twitter.com/GmB72hW2Jp
— CNN (@CNN) February 25, 2020
He’s pulling his punches a bit there by framing Bernie’s drooling over Castro’s literacy program as essentially an electability problem. Do Democrats really want to saddle themselves with this, knowing how it’ll play in Florida and beyond? Just because Sanders fans are too young, ignorant, and/or fanatic to see the problem with accentuating the positive in Fidel-ism doesn’t mean all voters are. Lefties and mainstream Dems might bicker over the relative merits of Cuba under Castro but there’s no disagreement among them that beating Trump is top priority this year, so that’s the way Mayor Pete chose to present this critique. Trump will benefit ultimately.
But I don’t want to sell him short. Near the end of the clip, he does make a moral argument against Sanders’s comments as well: “Why are we spotlighting the literacy programs of a brutal dictator instead of being unambiguous in our condemnation in the way he has treated his own people?” Indeed. It’s all in the emphasis. Kevin Williamson:
Senator Sanders is rather like the apologists for antebellum slavery who say, “Well, think of how much better-fed they were than they would have been in Africa.” That is socialism today — just like socialism yesterday and socialism tomorrow. Senator Sanders is utterly unfit, intellectually and morally, for the position he seeks. He should be ashamed of himself. We should be ashamed of him.
The autobahn was an impressive achievement, but if a far-right politician were to reach for that point in service to the argument that “the Nazis did some good things too” we’d all have a very clear impression of how that politician’s moral and ideological priorities are stacked. The irony is that questions about Cuba and the USSR should be golden opportunities for Bernie to try to distinguish his brand of leftism from the traditional variety. “Isn’t the whole point of being a ‘democratic socialist’ that you despise regimes like Cuba, Venezuela, and Maoist China even *more* than other people do for perverting and betraying your most cherished ideals?” asks David Frum. Certainly that’d be more effective spin. So why even bring up Castro’s literacy program? The talking point should be (and inevitably will be later this year) that Castro’s vision of socialism and Bernie’s vision of socialism are related the same way, say, apes and human beings are related. Instead this old red can’t help but reflexively start yammering about literacy rates. That’s the thing about him — he is who he is. He’s not going to “pivot” or start watering down his proposals. Ask him about Castro and you’re going to hear something about literacy or health care ev-e-ry time.
And of course, Castro’s achievements in literacy came at a cost. Read this column today in the Miami Herald by Fabiola Santiago, who went to school in Cuba during the Castro era. She did learn to read, we’ll grant Fidel that much. However:
Yes, by the time she leaves Cuba in 1969, this girl knows that the Cuban education system is dogmatic and abusive to innocent children who are ostracized for their parents’ beliefs.
Her parents’ heart-wrenching decision to leave it all behind and start a new life in Miami, saves her from worse. After their 12th birthdays, her friends have to enroll in la escuela al campo. They have to leave their home and their parents to live in barracks in the countryside and work in agricultural fields.
Because the “free education” in Cuba isn’t free, and the Castro literacy program the American left has bought into is rooted in indoctrination and devotion to the one-party political system.
Buttigieg isn’t wrong either about this stuff carrying a political cost. Reporters are already on the ground in Florida asking Cuban-Americans and their representatives what they think. Guess:
“Bernie Sanders here is dead in the water,” Emiliano Antunez, a Cuban-American political strategist, told Yahoo News, speaking outside the Versailles Cuban restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana, a famous local spot for talking politics. “And he’d be literally dead if he showed up — they’d probably run him over.”…
Democratic officeholders with large Cuban-American constituencies took pains to distance themselves from Sanders. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a freshman Democrat who flipped a GOP district in South Florida in 2018, said Sanders’s comments were “unacceptable.”
“As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban-Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’s comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable,” said Mucarsel-Powell via Twitter. “The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press and stifles a free society.”
No doubt Buttigieg and Bloomberg (and others?) will revisit this at tonight’s debate. But, as I say, that’s a surprise in Pete’s case. The left has already grown to loathe him, partly because he’s an obstacle to Bernie, partly because of his opportunistic tack to the center earlier in the race, and partly because of his “smartest kid in the room” former-consultant’s mien. In a party where progressivism is ascendant, it’s … not great for an ambitious young politician to have progressives at his throat. Apart from Klobuchar, he’s the only member of the top tier this year who’s likely to seek higher office again in the future, and even Klobuchar’s not a sure thing. You would think, then, that Buttigieg might lay off Sanders at this point and let Bloomberg do the heavy lifting in painting him as a commie symp, maybe even start steering back towards the left himself as part of his post-campaign rehab. It’d be one thing if he had won the early states and now had every reason to believe the nomination was within reach, but he didn’t and it isn’t. All he gains at this point by blowing Bernie up is further enmity from young lefties who regard him as a traitor to progressivism already. And it’ll make Buttigieg’s attempt to serve as a surrogate this summer and fall for Sanders that much more awkward and unwanted if he’s out there now calling him a Castro apologist.
So why’s he doing it? Just competitive spirit — “in it to win it”? Does he think he can a three-way race with Sanders and Bloomberg? I don’t get it.