TIME politics

Rand Paul: Cuba Isolationists Just Don’t Get It

marco-rubio-rand-paul
T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images; Rogelio V. Solis.—AP

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

Let's hope cooler heads will ultimately prevail and we unleash a trade tsunami that washes the Castros once and for all into the sea.

I grew up in a family that despised, not only communism, but collectivism, socialism and any “ism” that deprived the individual of his or her natural rights.

As a kid, I listened to the stories of an old Ukrainian fisherman who talked of fighting the Bolsheviks. More times than I can remember, I’ve heard horror stories of those who fled Castro’s Cuba. I ran for office to fight for the individual and against statism of any kind anywhere and yet… I think a policy of isolationism toward Cuba is misplaced and hasn’t worked.

I support engagement, diplomacy, and trade with Cuba, China, Vietnam, and many countries with less than stellar human rights records, because I believe that once enslaved people taste freedom and see the products of capitalism they will become hungry for freedom themselves.

President George W. Bush wrote that “trade creates the habits of freedom,” and trade provides the seeds of freedom that begin “to create the expectations of democracy.” Once trade begins it is hard to hide the amazing products of capitalism. The Soviets used to produce documentaries depicting poverty in America but it backfired when Russian viewers noticed that even in the poorest of circumstances you could still see televisions flickering in the windows. Once trade is enhanced with Cuba, it will be impossible to hide the bounty that freedom provides.

The supporters of the embargo against Cuba speak with heated passion but fall strangely silent when asked how trade with Cuba is so different than trade with Russia or China or Vietnam.

It is an inconsistent and incoherent position to support trade with other communist countries, but not communist Cuba.

Even the supporters of the embargo agree that it has not worked. A policy of isolationism with Cuba and engagement with China and Vietnam does not make any sense. Communism can’t survive the captivating allure of capitalism. Let’s overwhelm the Castro regime with iPhones, iPads, American cars, and American ingenuity.

My family’s opposition to communism was so fierce that when Nixon said the U.S. would trade with Red China our response was heated and passionately opposed. But over time my family and many conservatives came to believe that trade was better than war and more effective. While China’s human rights record leaves much to be desired, our engagement and trade has without question helped to open Chinese society.

Over the years, many conservatives have come to believe that trade with China and Vietnam is the best way to overcome and defeat communism. Trade and relations also make it less likely that we ever go to war with China, because the two countries have become economically intertwined.

That being said, it is ultimately Congress not the President who will debate and decide whether the embargo will end. Congress, not the Executive, has dominion over many aspects of the trade and travel embargo. I doubt Congress will vote to end the embargo at this time, but my hope is that restoring diplomatic ties will induce Cubans to rise up and demand more freedom and more trade with the U.S.

Those who love freedom and want to see a free Cuba should continue to demand nothing less than a democratic republic that defends the rights of the individual. After 50 years of embargo and no evidence of tyranny losing its grip, maybe it’s time for a new approach.

Public opinion is changing on this issue. Young Cuban-Americans have shifted their position on the embargo, and many young people support a change in policy. American farmers and other exporters would benefit by being able to sell more products to a country right off the coast of Florida.

Doug Bandow, of the CATO Institute writes that proponents of the embargo have it all wrong when they make the fear mongering claim that diplomacy with Cuba will make America less safe. Bandow argues that “America has engaged in years of on-and-off discussions with North Korea’s Kim dynasty stretching back to the Clinton administration. Under President Obama Washington has been negotiating with Iran’s government for months: most people recognize that a diplomatic settlement, no matter how difficult to achieve, would be better than war.”

For 70 years we had diplomatic relations with Russia, despite the gulags, despite the atrocities of Stalin and others. Reagan, himself, engaged and negotiated with Communist Russia.

The 50-year embargo against Cuba has not worked. If the goal was regime change, then it sure does not seem to be working. It also hurts the people more than the regime, because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.

Emotions understandably run high for those whose parents and grandparents had their land and their lives taken from them. But if our goal is to defeat Castro and defeat communism then perhaps we should step back and ask ourselves, “Has the embargo worked?” If we allow the passions to cool, maybe just maybe, we might conclude that trade is better than war and that capitalism wins every time a people get a chance to see its products.

Let’s hope cooler heads will ultimately prevail and we unleash a trade tsunami that washes the Castros once and for all into the sea.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

Read next: Rand Taunts Rubio On Cuba Policy

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Economy

Just How Much Does the Economy Affect the Outcome of Presidential Elections?

Obama
Barack Obama speaks during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2008. Mauricio Rubio—Getty Images

It’s time for the media to stop pretending that candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies are what really count

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

In a fascinating paper, Princeton economists Alan S. Blinder (formerly Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) and Mark W. Watson point to the significance of economic factors in presidential contests (see pages 14-16, especially). Their synopsis of elections since the end of the Second World War reveals that presidential candidates operated with distinct advantages or disadvantages, depending on whether their party or their opponent’s party recently governed in a period of prosperity or economic hardship. In many instances the state of the economy appeared to make as much or more of an impact on the presidential race than the candidates’ personal attributes, campaign strategies, or debating skills.

It is intriguing to expand upon the insights of Blinder and Watson and consider the potential influence of economic conditions on the 2016 presidential race. The state of the economy could play a major role in the outcome. But long-term wage stagnation could make that factor less significant in 2016. The disruptive character of stagnant wages was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Even though the U.S. economy had improved substantially in recent years, Democrats lost decidedly in many sections of the nation. Democrats’ failed to excite voter support, partly because average American workers had seen little or no personal economic improvement in the years of the Obama presidency and Democratic influence in Washington. If this situation does not change in the next few years, the condition of the overall economy in 2016 may not influence the voters’ decisions as much as it has in the past.

Drawing upon insights presented by Blinder and Watson, it is evident that economic factors often affected voters’ judgments in presidential elections up until recent times.

For instance, historians often cite Harry S. Truman’s fighting spirit and the Republicans’ flawed strategies when identifying causes of the Democratic president’s surprise victory in 1948. Yet Truman’s campaign was buoyed by early signs in 1948 of an impressive post-war economic boom. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had dropped precipitously in 1946 (a development that made pundits think Truman would lose in 1948), but a substantial economic recovery was underway by the time of the November, 1948 elections.

Richard Nixon ran for president in 1960. He lost, not only because he ran against a handsome, charismatic, and eloquent Democrat named John F. Kennedy. A third recession of the Eisenhower era, stretching from 1960 to 1961 undermined Nixon’s campaign. JFK excited voters with a promise to “get America moving again.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson won easily against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater’s image as an extremist hurt his campaign, but economic conditions also made the Arizona Senator’s efforts difficult. The Kennedy/Johnson tax cut of 1964 quickly stimulated business expansion. Voters were in an optimistic mood when they went to the polls in 1964. Four years later, Richard Nixon benefited from the Johnson Administration’s economic troubles. Worries about inflation related to huge U.S. military commitments in Vietnam cut into voters’ support for the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. Federal efforts to deal with the emerging economic problems through fiscal and monetary policies aided Nixon, who won a race that turned close in the final days.

The economy first helped and then hurt Democrat Jimmy Carter. Shifts in energy prices made a big impact on Carter’s fortunes. Republican President Gerald Ford campaigned under a cloud in 1976. “Stagflation,” a combination of economic recession and price inflation, created difficulties for the GOP’s candidate, as did Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter secured a victory. Four years later, Carter’s efforts to remain in the White House failed. Jimmy Carter stumbled as a leader, and economic conditions exacerbated his difficulties. Oil prices surged in 1979 and inflation turned worse. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, tried to tame inflation with tight monetary policies. Business and employment slowed considerably during the months that Carter campaigned for re-election.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan excited voters with promises to revive the economy. Reagans’ popularity slipped during his first two years in office, in large part because of a deep recession. By late 1982, however, Paul Volker’s monetary squeeze appeared to be working. Inflation declined. Additionally, global production of petroleum had expanded and prices dropped substantially. In 1984 Reagan won reelection in a landslide. Perhaps the Republican president’s ebullient personality would have carried him to victory under less promising conditions, but Reagan surely benefited from the favorable economic winds at his back.

Following the Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush received a 90% approval rating and seemed well-positioned to win a second term in 1992. Then a troubling recession in 1990-1991 undermined his popularity. George H. W.’s Bush’s disapproval rating hit 64%. Bill Clinton projected an effervescent personality in the 1992 campaign, but that was not his only advantage over Bush and an independent candidate, Ross Perot. The voters’ unhappiness with the economy figured prominently. Clinton strategist James Carville famously identified the main issue: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Two years after the 1992 victory, Bill Clinton’s presidency was deeply troubled. Republicans crushed Democrats in the congressional races of 1994, and the GOP appeared to have enough clout in Washington to block Clinton’s initiatives. Republicans hoped to make Clinton a one-term president. In 1996, however, the U.S. economy looked much stronger than it had a few years before. Voter optimism helped Clinton to dispatch his competitors, Republican Bob Dole and independent Ross Perot.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their candidate in 2000 chose to keep his distance from Bill Clinton. Al Gore, Vice President during the previous eight years, refused to exploit the Clinton connection to the fullest during his presidential campaign. Gore feared that voters would view an association with Clinton negatively because of the president’s scandalous relationship with a young intern. Al Gore made a strategic mistake. The U.S. economy had been on a sustained climb though most of Bill Clinton’s eight years. Gore failed to take adequate credit for Clinton-era prosperity. He won the popular vote but lost the election after the Supreme Court intervened in the Florida vote count.

Barack Obama benefited from economic conditions during both of his presidential campaigns. With the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in September 2008, the U.S. and global economies began to crash. Many voters associated Republicans with the financial crisis. They backed the newcomer, Barack Obama over Senator John McCain, who displayed little understanding of economics during the campaign. In 2012 Republican Mitt Romney claimed that he, a successful businessman, knew better than President Obama about creating jobs and fostering prosperity. Romney’s message failed to resonate. There were many reasons for Romney’s defeat, but one of the most important was his inability to gain traction on economic issues. Mitt Romney could not effectively characterize Barack Obama’s administration as incompetent in business affairs. Stock markets had climbed steeply since their lows in early 2009, and the unemployment rate had declined substantially by election time.

Since the U.S. economy has been on an upward tear from the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency, Hillary Clinton or some other Democratic presidential candidate should have a distinct advantage in 2016. The Democrats’ future also looks promising because of the sudden drop in energy prices. A slowdown in global demand for oil, declining production costs related to fracking, and a glut of oil in global markets have rapidly cut the cost of a barrel of crude oil from about $100 to less than $70. Price drops work like a large tax cut or a welcome pay raise. In coming months and, perhaps, years, Americans will need less money to purchase gas for their car or heat their home. Consumer products may be cheaper, since they will be manufactured and transported at reduced cost. By the time of the 2016 elections, the benefits of reduced expenditures for energy may be more evident to voters than they were at the time of the 2014 congressional elections. Optimistic voters may reward the Democratic presidential candidate.

Democrats cannot, however, be certain that the U.S. economy will be dynamic in November, 2016. There are some troubling signs on the horizon. Global business has been slowing, especially in Europe. The U.S. economy has been growing more impressively, but Wall Street analysts warn that the lengthy stock market boom cannot last forever. Values have been climbing since early 2009. A serious market “correction” might arrive at a bad time for Democrats – weeks or months before the 2016 election.

Also, despite vigorous business expansion in recent years, most working Americans are not realizing true economic improvement. Employment opportunities have expanded, but many of the new jobs are part-time. They do not pay good wages, and they offer few benefits. In contrast, individuals with technical skills and advanced degrees often command strong earnings. Income inequality has become a glaring issue.

In recent decades individuals and families at the top have realized extraordinary gains, while the rest of the U.S. population saw disappointing returns. The Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007 the top 1% of households realized 275% growth of inflation-adjusted income. In contrast, the bottom 20% of Americans saw growth in those 28 years of just 18%. Another study by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that between 1983 and 2010 approximately three-quarters of all new wealth went to the richest 5% of households, while the bottom 60% of households actually turned poorer over that period. Data from the Labor Department reveal that income for the middle 60% of the U.S. population has stagnated since 2007.

The angst of working Americans was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Despite improvements in equity markets and corporate earnings, voters felt a pinch. Republicans cast President Obama as the culprit in their campaign rhetoric. They claimed his flawed leadership left millions of Americans struggling to earn a decent living.

President Barack Obama and Democratic senators have been dominant in Washington in the years of a remarkable economic turnaround, yet they failed to convince voters that their policies helped in significant ways to foster a recovery. A post-2014 election headline in the New York Times indicated, “Democrats Say Economic Message Was Lacking.” The Times reported thatDemocrats could not project the kind of broad vision in 2014 that inspires voter turnout. Larry LaRocco, a former Democratic congressman from Idaho, identified the challenge Democrats face as they look ahead: “What do we stand for?” he asked. In 2016 Democrats will need to convince voters that they do, indeed, have an effective plan for economic growth.

The Democrats’ efforts to persuade voters that the Obama presidency has produced results may become easier if recent employment statistics augur a trend. The Labor Department reported that employers added 321,000 jobs in November and, even more significant, the hourly earnings of ordinary workers jumped sharply. If future reports continue to show wage gains, the Democratic candidate will benefit from favorable economic winds. If the November gains prove a fluke and wage stagnation persists, Republicans may be able to capitalize on voter discontent in 2016, much as they did in 2014.

Whatever the situation, economic conditions will likely affect the outcome– as it usually does in presidential contests. Yet when writing and speaking about the campaign, many pundits will overlook this important factor. They will focus on the candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies rather than evidence from history that suggests the state of the economy often has a major impact on the voters’ decision.

Robert Brent Toplin taught at Denison University and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Since retirement from full-time teaching, he has taught some courses at the University of Virginia. Toplin has published several books and articles about history, politics, and film.

TIME movies

The Very Political History of Annie

Quvenzhane Wallis;Jamie Foxx
Barry Wetcher—Columbia Pictures/Sony

The new movie adaptation finds a new time

The new version of Annie — in theaters Friday — doesn’t exactly shy away from its New Deal origins. Mere minutes of the film have passed before the newest actress to step into the orphan’s shoes, Quvenzhané Wallis, is talking about Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression.

Except this time that history is, well, history. The musical that once contained songs with the actual titles “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover” and “A New Deal for Christmas” has been updated for modern times. And, though its Daddy Warbucks equivalent (Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, a New York gazillionaire with aspirations à la Michael Bloomberg) is still involved in politics, the story has left behind much of its erstwhile focus on the national political climate.

“The interesting thing about Annie is that it was started as a political cartoon and with pretty biting social and political commentary, and then it was turned into a musical, and people have forgotten that,” says Will Gluck, the writer-director behind the new adaptation. “They just think about ‘Tomorrow,’ the plucky kid and the dog.”

The content of that original social commentary may surprise some of today’s “Tomorrow” singers. In the ’20s, when the strip debuted, Little Orphan Annie was already “issuing a steady stream of far-right propaganda.” In 1935, one newspaper canceled the comic because “Annie has been made the vehicle for a studied, veiled, and alarmingly vindictive propaganda.” Cartoonist Harold Gray was a staunch believer in the way Daddy Warbucks got rich, which was “doing his job and not asking for help from anyone,” as he put it. “Gray agrees that Annie dabbles in dialectics, and he has no intention, of stopping her,” TIME commented in 1962. “To Artist Gray, Daddy and Annie are salesmen of the American dream, the “pioneer spirit” that without assistance, even from the State Department, can cope with Castro, neutralize the H-bomb, and eliminate the income tax.”

In the 1970s, however, when Annie went to Broadway, though TIME opined that her newspaper-comic twin was “still fight[ing] the Red Menace and bleeding-heart liberals,” the character’s priorities changed. In the musical version of Annie, the spunky orphan — who has already helped her war-profiteering rescuer realize that those who have less are worth taking care of — is brought along to a meeting with FDR, at which point her natural optimism helps inspire the President to institute the New Deal. The general take-away, besides the fact that the sun will come out tomorrow, is that New-Deal-style, progressive policies help everyone get the fair shake he or she deserves. Annie’s can-do pluck is still important, but she’s optimistic about the government’s ability to help all rather than individuals helping themselves.

Gluck says that, while updating the story for today’s audiences — Annie lives in a foster home rather than an orphanage, for example — he didn’t want to lose that part of the story’s background. “The one thing I wanted to keep is the socioeconomic divide of the Depression,” he says, “which sadly has even gotten bigger now and sadly is not going away.” That was why he made sure to have his Annie teach viewers a little lesson about the Great Depression when, she says, things were just like they are today except without the Internet.

Still, this iteration of Annie ends up bringing the political girl to a more centrist position.

By keeping things local and staying away from specific historical moments — no, new Annie does not inspire the President to believe that there really are plenty of shovel-ready stimulus projects out there — some of the specificity of Annie’s political message is lost too. Stacks thinks that in New York City, if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you want, just like old-fashioned Daddy Warbucks did. Meanwhile, Annie recognizes that folks in her neighborhood are often ignored and left behind, even when they work hard, just like her theatrical predecessor did. They each come to see the other’s side a little better, but the audience doesn’t come away singing a song about Obamacare.

But, Gluck says, that’s a better fit for the audience anyway — though not because today’s political divides are so treacherous. Adults may see Annie as a rags-to-riches story, he says, but kids don’t really know what that means; the core message of Annie, about hope and optimism, works just as well now as it did in the ’70s or ’30s because it’s a universal story. “I don’t believe the end of the movie is that she got to live with a rich guy,” he says. “I believe that to her the end of the movie is that she got to find a family.”

Besides, he still remembers the first time he saw the original Annie, and the questions he had for his parents when it was over: Who is Herbert Hoover and who is that guy in the wheelchair? When he took his own kids to see Annie on Broadway recently, they had the same exact questions. His movie’s young viewers, however, won’t be left scratching their heads. “You don’t need to study for this essay question,” he says.

Read our original review of the musical Annie, here in the TIME Vault: No Waif Need Apply

TIME Television

Review: The Colbert Report Is Dead. Long Live Stephen Colbert!

"If this is your first time tuning into The Colbert Report, I have some terrible news"

It’s a rare man who gets to attend his own funeral. It’s an even luckier man who gets to cheat his own death, dust his prints off the murder weapon, read his own eulogy, and rise to live again in another form.

That’s what Stephen Colbert did Thursday night with “Stephen Colbert,” in a show that sent his bloviating host character — one of the greatest sustained performances in pop culture, TV or otherwise — off into TV eternity. And his final Colbert Report was both a sweet ending and a perfect summation of the show’s spirit — smart and surreal, sly and sincere. The finale nodded to the massive creation that Colbert wrought over nine years, and — as he flew off with Santa, a unicorn Abraham Lincoln, and Alex Trebek — promised something different to come.

Colbert began his last Report by riffing on what pop-culture commentators have been riffing on all week, his show’s legacy, though tongue-in-cheek. “I did something much harder than change the world,” he said. “Folks, I samed the world. Another Bush governor is running for the White House. People on TV are defending torture. We are sending troops into Iraq.” When the Report began in 2005, he said, “I promised you a revolution, and I delivered. Because technically, one revolution is 360 degrees right back to where we were.”

But Colbert revolutionized much more than that in between. A quick rundown of some of his greatest stunts over the years — the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, the SuperPAC — was the closest he got to breaking-character sentiment: “You, the Nation, did all that. I just got paid for it.”

Then, following a bizarre setup in which one last “Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA” ended with his killing Grimmy and becoming immortal, Colbert launched into a grand, punchy sing-along of “We’ll Meet Again,” with a celebrity cast of dozens that demands DVR rewinding but included, in part: Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Brokaw, Big Bird, Keith Olbermann, Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Samantha Power, Michael Stipe, James Franco, Charlie Rose, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Stewart, Christiane Amanpour, Arianna Huffington, Alan Alda, George Lucas, Henry Kissinger, Vince Gilligan (still chained in Colbert’s basement after the Breaking Bad finale), soldiers in Afghanistan, Esteban Colberto, Bill Clinton, an astronaut, JJ Abrams and Smaug.

Read more Why Stephen Colbert Is Signing Off at the Perfect Time

The all-star sendoff is a staple of talk-show finales, but this one seemed to say something here about the vast world that Colbert created with the Report. The show itself was not the sum total of the production that Colbert has put since 2005. It was just the flagship product of a larger performance that extended to the Internet, to public rallies, to political campaigns, and even to space.

By transforming himself into a character, and taking his performance far beyond the thirty minutes of the show, Colbert was engineering a way to satirize a subject — the media and political culture — that had moved almost beyond satire. It started with one big idea: that in American discourse, gut feeling and team affiliation had replaced reason (indeed, had labeled reason itself a kind of contemptible bad faith). The Report debuted just after a Bush adviser speaking to reporter Ron Suskind dismissed, in pre-satirized terms, the “reality-based community.”

So Colbert created not just a show but a massive work of performance art set in the reality-liberated community. It opened with not just a hilarious routine, but what felt like a summary of the era, in which Colbert introduced the concept of “truthiness.” The nation, he said, was divided between “those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.”

It was funny, it was perceptive, and you might expect that to fuel a show for, what, half a year? That Colbert was able to be “Stephen Colbert” at such a high level for some nine years was the 56-game-hitting-streak of American comedy, a feat we may not see equalled again. He kept it up in part by taking the show on the road. He brought his act to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, got Doritos to sponsor his favorite-son run in the 2008 South Carolina primary, and — in what was probably his high-water mark — in 2011 went through the process of founding a real SuperPAC. It was simultaneously an epic work of performance-art satire and genuine public-service education.

Read more 5 Times Stephen Colbert Changed the World

Before the finale, Colbert was already in the process of letting go of “himself”; on Wednesday’s show, he held a yard sale of Report memorabilia, unloading a copy of his correspondents’ dinner speech to a crying baby, selling a bottle of “Ass Juice” to a lucky bargain hunter. He seemed at peace, and why shouldn’t he be? He’s going on to something new, taking over for David Letterman at CBS. And while that’s generated much interest in what Colbert will do as himself, I’m not too concerned.

Because truth be told, one of the undersung aspects of the Report was how he infused his satire with his actual character, from his geeky enthusiasm for Tolkien to his sincere passion for ideas and ideals. If you expected him to give us a taste of what we’ll see from him on CBS, though, you’ll have to wait until later next year. Except for a post-credits sequence of him cutting up with Jon Stewart during a 2010 taping, he maintained his rock-solid professional facade.

But the plaintive strains of “Holland, 1945″ by Neutral Milk Hotel — a favorite band of the honest-to-God Colbert — clued us in to the bittersweetness of this see-you-later. Right up to the end, Stephen Colbert did not break character. But the rest of us can be forgiven if we broke down a little, saying goodbye to America’s greatest, most genuine phony.

Read next: Stephen Colbert: A Great Talk-Show Host? No, the Greatest!

TIME politics

Help the Cuban Opposition, Not the Castros

Ted Cruz
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Gutierrez—AP

Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator for Texas.

Congress should reject President Obama’s latest bad deal

In July 2013, I had the opportunity to speak with two prominent Cuban dissidents, Elizardo Sanchez and Guillermo Farinas. Both men had been supporters of the Castros—Sanchez as an academic, Farinas as a soldier—but had come to realize the real brutal, authoritarian nature of their Communist regime. Farinas, for example, spoke of the moment of clarity he had the first time he read Animal Farm during the 1980s, in Russian because he was in the Soviet Union receiving specialized military training.

Sanchez and Farinas painted a grim picture of life in Cuba, which they said had become “a big jail” since 1959. They described how the Castros have a comprehensive apparatus of oppression that exploits economic control, political repression, and propaganda to control each and every Cuban citizen. Growing up in Cuba, they said, meant choosing between becoming part of the repression, pretending to be mentally ill, abandoning your homeland, or confronting the regime, in which case you risked being killed, jailed, or beaten.

My family knows this hard truth about Cuba all too well. My father was imprisoned and tortured by Batista, and my aunt was imprisoned and tortured by Castro. Both fled for America and for freedom.

According to Sanchez and Farinas, Raul and Fidel Castro remain the implacable enemies of the United States. They are constantly thinking of ways to harm America—they are evil, and we cannot make a deal with an evil regime. The goal of the Castros, they explained, was to copy “Putinismo,” or the tricks and deceptions the Russian strongman had used to fool the west with the appearance of change while in reality, his authoritarian government consolidated power. Farinas cautioned that the Castros would try to get the United States to finance their “Putinist project” through the relaxation of the embargo, and that we should reject any deal that did not include real political reform.

As we now know, around the time I was interviewing Sanchez and Farinas, the Obama administration was already planning a major revision of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounts in her recent book, Hard Choices, that she recommended this course of action around the time she left office.

But just like the recent failed outreach attempts with Russia and Iran, the administration assumed they could persuade dictatorial tyrants to put the interests of their people and the international community before their own. And so this week, President Obama announced he is unilaterally undoing more than half a century of bi-partisan U.S. policy towards Cuba and reducing economic sanctions before the Castros make a single meaningful concession.

How prophetic Sanchez and Farinas were. America is, in effect, writing the check that will allow the Castros to follow Vladimir Putin’s playbook of repression.

But simply criticizing the Obama administration approach is not enough. As Sanchez and Farinas pointed out, no one can deny that the Castros have successfully exploited their enmity with the United States to enhance their reputation as revolutionary freedom fighters. And as the critics of the embargo argue, we are 50 years into the project and the Castros are still in power. Of course we should look for new ways to relieve the misery of the Cuban people—but there are better options than what the Obama administration has proposed.

First, the United States should have demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross before we negotiated economic relief for Cuba. We celebrate his return, but it should have been beholden on the Castros to demonstrate good faith in advance of any concessions on our part. And we should not be creating incentives for other oppressive regimes to seize and ransom American citizens.

In addition, the United States should have recognized the significant pressures the Castro regime currently faces, which recall those in the late 1990s when deprived of Soviet sponsorship, their regime was threatened with economic catastrophe. Then, Hugo Chavez stepped in to save them, but now, with the impending collapse of the Venezuelan economy, disaster looms again. If the United States is to provide an economic lifeline to Cuba at this critical juncture, we might have extracted some significant concessions:

  • Rather than arbitrary prisoner releases, the United States should demand significant legal reform so that the Cuban government can no longer detain its citizens—or ours—indefinitely with no process. Otherwise the 53 prisoners they are to release under the terms of this deal can simply be picked up again at the whim of the Castro regime.
  • Rather than vague promises of exploring political liberalization, the United States should demand that the political opposition to the Castros be included in any and all negotiations with Cuba, so their concerns will be fully heard and their priorities addressed. Otherwise there will be no incentive for the Castro regime to engage in necessary political reforms.
  • Rather than unilaterally lifting the economic embargo on Cuba, the United States should calibrate any relaxation of sanctions directly to the cessation of their repression and human rights violations. Otherwise, American dollars will flow exclusively into the Castros’ pockets while the Cuban people have no relief.

These are only a few of the many ideas I look forward to our considering when the 114th Congress convenes in January. But one area on which there is already broad, bi-partisan consensus is that President Obama’s new Cuba policy is yet another very bad deal brokered by this administration. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba.

Raul and Fidel Castro, the men who were complicit in the Cuban Missile Crisis; the close allies of Russia, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea; and the systematic persecutors of the Cuban people, have not suddenly become our regional partners.

We do have friends in Cuba, people like Elizardo Sanchez, Guillermo Farinas, and their many colleagues in the opposition. But this misguided policy of President Obama’s does nothing to help them. On the contrary it may well strengthen the Castros and entrench a new generation of their oppressors in power unless Congress steps in to stop it.

Read next: Obama Just Handed the Castro Regime a New Lease on Life

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Revolution

When Fidel Castro Took Power: How TIME Covered the News

The Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME
Fidel Castro on the Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN

Castro was on the cover of the magazine three weeks after he seized control of Cuba

When Fidel Castro first ousted Fulgencio Batista at the turn of 1959, there weren’t many non-Cuban journalists there to see it happen — but TIME’s Bruce Henderson was there, and he was soon joined by Bernard Diederich, who would later cover the Caribbean for the magazine. Their presence meant that, throughout that January, TIME’s “Hemispheres” section carried up-to-the-minute news about the changes on the island.

As Diederich recalls in his book 1959: The Year That Changed Our World, the assignment was an unusual one:

Henderson assigned me to cover Fidel’s arrival in Havana. I leaped onto a tank with a group of 26th of July female fighters and rode in Fidel’s wake into Camp Columbia, once the bastion of Batista’s army. It was January 8. Rodríguez Echazábel was already at the camp headquarters when I arrived. My Santiago-issued laissez-passer did wonders too. I was introduced to bearded rebel comandante (Maj.)Maj. Camilo Cienfuegos to whom I explained my challenging assignment. Time would want a full description of Fidèl’s first night in Havana. Would the 26th of July leader choose to dance, date, or dive into bed after his arduous trip up the island from the Sierra Maestra to Havana. Camilo smiled broadly when I also told him that I needed to know the color of Fidèl’s pajamas—if he wore them!

Though those “female fighters” were the subject of a story in the Jan. 19, 1959, issue, Castro’s pajamas did not. (Actually, his blue cotton PJs did get their moment, but it wasn’t until that May.)

However, Castro got even more focus from TIME the following week, when he was featured on the cover of the magazine, in a story that focused on matters a lot more important than his sleepwear choices. Rather, the article opened with Castro pushing for the executions of those who had abetted the Batista regime:

…Castro was in no mood for mercy. “They are criminals,” he said. “Everybody knows that. We give them a fair trial. Mothers come in and say, ‘This man killed my son.’ ” To demonstrate, Castro offered to stage the courts-martial in Havana’s Central Park—an unlikely spot for cool justice but perfect for a modern-day Madame Defarge.

In the trials rebels acted as prosecutor, defender and judge. Verdicts, quickly reached, were as quickly carried out. In Santiago the show was under the personal command of Fidel’s brother Raul, 28, a slit-eyed man who had already executed 30 “informers” during two years of guerrilla war. Raul’s firing squads worked in relays, and they worked hour after hour. Said Raul: “There’s always a priest on hand to hear the last confession.”

Read the full 1959 cover story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: The Vengeful Visionary

TIME politics

Cuba’s Unanswered Questions

Obama Makes Statement On U.S.-Cuba Policy
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the nation about normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, at the White House on Dec. 17, 2014 Pool / Getty Images

In 2013, TIME took a look at a changing Cuba

When President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would work toward normalizing long-severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, it came as a surprise to many.

But as TIME observed in a feature story last July, change has long been underway for an Island nation that, in the past, has had a reputation for seeming frozen in time. Rules about commerce and private business had been relaxed, citizens were encouraged to find non-state jobs, tourism was opening up and the possibility of a non-Castro leader suddenly seemed less distant. However, that didn’t mean that Cuba’s future was clear.

Many of the questions raised by writer Pico Iyer are, even in this new phase of Cuban history, still unanswered:

Cubans today are free–at last–to enjoy their own version of Craigslist, to take holidays in fancy local tourist hotels, to savor seafood-and-papaya lasagna with citrus compote, washed down by a $200 bottle of wine, in one of the country’s more than 1,700 paladares, or privately run restaurants. They’re free to speak out against just about everything–except the two brothers at the top–and they strut around their capital in T-shirts featuring the $1 bill or Barack Obama in his “Yes we can” pose, even (in the case of one woman leaning against the gratings in Fraternity Park) in very skimpy briefs decorated with the Stars and Stripes.

Yet as what was long underground is now aboveboard, and as capitalist all-against-all has become official communist policy, no one seems quite sure whether the island is turning right or left. Next to the signs saying EVERYTHING FOR THE REVOLUTION, there’s an Adidas store; and the neglected houses of Old Havana sit among rooftop swimming pools and life-size stuffed bears being sold for $870. “Nobody knows where we’re going,” says a trained economist whose specialty was market research, “and people don’t know what they want. We’re sailing in the dark.”

Read the rest of the story, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Cuban Evolution

TIME politics

Fear of a Mad King Jeb

Jeb Bush Speaks At The Reagan Library About His New Book
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Library about his new book "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution" on March 8, 2013 in Simi Valley, Calif. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

Lipsky is the editor of the New York Sun.

It turns out that the real danger of kingly behavior lurks in the contempt of the Constitution that has crept into our politics during the years of President Obama.

The prospect that Jeb Bush will run against Hillary Clinton certainly has the hoi polloi waving the Constitution. It forbids both the Congress and the States from granting any title of nobility. Yet John Kass, writing in Chicago Tribune, is likening our politics to “Game of Thrones.” In 2008 Nicholas Kristof fretted that the presidency might be kept “in the same two families who have held it since 1989.” Now Maureen Dowd is warning that the Bushes and the Clintons “are going to make the Tudors and the Plantagenets look like pikers.”

Me, I’m not so sure. No doubt the Founders feared a king. They’d tasted oppression under Mad George III, and they knew what they were doing when they inked the national parchment. The ban on titles of nobility passed unanimously in Philadelphia. “It appears to be incompatible with the principles of our national Constitution to admit the introduction of any kind of Nobility, Knighthood, or distinctions of a similar nature, amongst the Citizens of our republic,” George Washington wrote, referring to the Articles of Confederation, which also banned titles of nobility.

The new republic was on edge about the matter, too. Washington’s opponents even accused him of kingly airs. Jefferson warned that the Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to libel the president or Congress and were signed by John Adams, would lead to the president becoming like a king. When it seemed that Napoleon’s brother Jerome and his American wife aspired for their son an annuity from France, Congress tried to amend the Constitution to strip American citizenship from any person who accepted a foreign title of nobility.

Yet the Titles of Nobility Amendment is still open, having been ratified by only 12 states. It seems that what animates the anti-nobility language in the Constitution is more serious concerns. The Constitution not only prohibits American titles of nobility. It prohibits any officer of the government from accepting a foreign title. Hamilton, writing in Federalist 84, called the probation “the corner stone of republican government; for so long as they are excluded, there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people.”

That’s what they were worried about. Not fops, grandees, and pretenders, but the undercutting of the people, the danger to democracy. I think that’s going to be a hard case to make against either Jeb Bush, who stood twice for governor of Florida and won both times, or Hillary Clinton, who stood twice for Senate and served in the upper chamber with distinction. It’s difficult to see how democracy is undercut when the sons, wives, and siblings of our national leaders run for public office. That actually acknowledges the superiority of the people.

This principle was nailed in 1824, when President and Abigail Adams’s son, John Quincy Adams, ran for president. He’d already been five years a senator, plus secretary of state and ambassador to Russia, England, Prussia, and the Netherlands. It is true that John Quincy had failed to gain a majority (or even a plurality) of the vote in the Electoral College and was lifted into the presidency only by a vote of the House of Representatives. But that’s how his own father lost to Jefferson. After his presidency, John Quincy himself went on to serve 17 years in the House.

It turns out that the real danger of kingly behavior lurks in the contempt of the Constitution that has crept into our politics during the years of President Obama. It’s the danger that the president can wield a pen and a phone, even when Congress fails to act, as Obama is trying to do on immigration, or as he has been doing in trying to fix Obamacare. Or pack the courts, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to do in 1937 or as the Democrats have been able to do on the appellate bench only by changing confirmation rules in the Senate.

Whether Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton will be able to win their party’s nomination, this is hard to say at this stage of the race. But it’s not hard to say that America’s real safeguards against kingly behavior are less in the prohibition on titles of nobility and more in the deep constitutional principles. These are a Constitution that is written down (so it can mean the same thing over a long time) and that separates and enumerates the powers granted to the government and plainly reserves all others to the states or to the people. That is the kryptonite of kings.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Why the Torture Report Won’t Actually Change Anyone’s Views On Torture

Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, talks with reporters after sharing a report on the CIA and it's torture methods, December 9, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Matt Motyl is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

We are especially motivated to preserve our moral beliefs and discount evidence that challenges our views

If you know a person’s politics, you can make an educated guess about their views on the events in Ferguson, Eric Garner, the alleged rape at the University of Virginia, and a variety of CIA “dark sites” around the world. Of course, people will justify their condemnation (or praise) of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” by claiming that torture doesn’t produce reliable evidence (or that it does). But what’s the relationship between their moral evaluation of the practice and their belief in its efficacy? For most people, the evaluation comes first, and it leads to their beliefs about whether or not torture “works.”

Social psychologists have studied this process for decades. In 1979, Charles Lord, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper asked Stanford undergraduates to evaluate the quality of two scientific studies examining the effectiveness of capital punishment in deterring future crime. These scientific studies used the same methods but were evaluated in strikingly different ways by those who supported and opposed capital punishment. You’d think that people exposed to a range of findings would be pulled toward the center, but in fact they ended up further apart than when they began. People drew support from their favored study and dismissed the other one.

More recently, Yale University professor Dan Kahan conducted an experiment where he gave participants profiles of experts on climate science, nuclear-waste disposal and concealed-carry gun laws. All these experts had advanced degrees from the world’s foremost universities and held prestigious jobs in their relevant fields. After participants read the expert profiles, Kahan presented them with the experts’ conclusions that either supported or refuted the participants’ views. When participants were asked to evaluate the experts’ scholarly credentials (remember that all these authors had similarly remarkable academic bona fides), what Kahan found was that participants viewed scientists as experts only if they confirmed the participants’ pre-existing beliefs. Both these studies, and dozens more like them, suggest that people apply different standards to evidence that supports their views than to evidence that challenges their views. We are prone to uncritically accept arguments and information that confirm our view while unfairly rejecting arguments and information that challenge our view—regardless of what our view is.

Consider the challenge of sifting through thousands of pages of documentation on the effectiveness of the CIA’s brutal interrogation tactics in generating actionable intelligence. How might you respond if you were presented with evidence that challenged your view on torture? If you oppose torture and saw evidence suggesting that it does result in high-quality actionable intelligence, would you change your position and come to support the use of torture? If you support the use of torture in some situations and saw evidence suggesting that it never results in any quality intelligence, would you change your position and come to oppose the use of torture? Odds are you would discount the information that challenged your views on torture.

In part, this is because torture is a moral issue, and we are especially motivated to preserve faith in the truth of our moral beliefs. Research by social psychologists Peter Ditto and Brittany Liu demonstrates that people’s moral beliefs shape their interpretation of facts. Specifically, they asked more than 1,500 people in a survey at YourMorals.org how moral or immoral forceful interrogations were and how likely those forceful interrogations would be to yield positive consequences, like actionable intelligence. They found that people who believed torture was inherently immoral assumed that any information gleaned from it was likely to be unreliable. On the other hand, people less squeamish about the morality of torture assumed that information gleaned from torture was potentially life-saving. In a related experiment, they found that when people were led to think of a political policy in moralistic terms, it changed their beliefs about the policy’s costs and benefits to fit with their moral view; the more morally desirable the policy, the more effective it was seen to be. In other words, people’s beliefs about the morality or immorality of torture biased their interpretation of the facts regarding torture’s (in-)effectiveness.

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Research, though, suggests that it is not so easy to separate fact from belief. And our beliefs change what “facts” we decide count as facts. Furthermore, once we decide something is a moral issue and that our position owns the moral high ground, facts become less relevant. If they do not confirm our belief, we assume that the facts were produced by people who were biased by some ulterior motive. For example, Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who generally supported the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and opposed the declassification of the CIA torture memo, responded in a joint statement saying that the “study by Senate Democrats is an ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.” In contrast, President Obama, who generally opposed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, responded to the release of the report by saying it “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national-security interests.” In other words, supporters and opponents of torture, or conservatives and liberals alike, exhibited the same motivated cognitive bias where they evaluated information in ways to confirm their beliefs.

In conclusion, the human brain is built to evaluate evidence in biased ways. If information fits with our moral values, we are quick to accept that evidence as strong and true, furthering our belief that we are correct and that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong and probably immoral. If the information contradicts our moral values, we are quick to discount that evidence as flawed or biased by the nefarious ideological motives of others. This tendency is especially true when the evidence is complex and ambiguous, as is the case with the Senate’s CIA torture report and with the conflicting testimony of dozens of witnesses interviewed in grand jury hearings in the Darren Wilson case in Ferguson.

So the next time you’re debating torture or any other contentious political issue — climate change, genetically modified foods, hydraulic fracking or the invisible hand of the free market — remember that your opinion is just as biased as the person you are debating and that your beliefs may not be based on facts. Rather, your facts may be based on your beliefs. And that goes for the other side too.

Motyl is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a political psychologist who studies group conflict

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

What Makes Jeb Bush the ‘Most Unusual of the Bush Kids’

John E. Bush
GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush during a campaign event on Oct. 1, 1998 Steve Liss—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

TIME profiled the politician in 1998

After months of will-he-or-won’t-he chatter, Jeb Bush has rocketed into headlines by announcing that he’s officially exploring a 2016 run for President. But Bush is no stranger to making news.

Last year TIME’s Jon Meacham considered the possibility that the run might happen, and the myth that “Jeb was the Bush son who was supposed to be President” — a myth that can be traced back to 1994, when both George W. Bush and Jeb Bush ran for governor, of Texas and Florida, respectively. The former won; the latter lost.

In 1998, when Jeb Bush ran again, things had changed. After a religious conversion and a family crisis, his new campaign was, as TIME put it in a profile of the politician, “kinder, gentler.” It worked, bringing him a victory that fall. A gubernatorial run that had been focused on compassion, education and broad appeal was a change from the more conservative style of Bush family campaigning, and that wasn’t the only thing that was different about him:

Jeb Bush has always been the most unusual of the Bush kids. Yes, he had the Greenwich pedigree and the summers in Kennebunkport. But while still in high school, he went to Mexico and came back in love with a Mexican girl named Columba. He married her, and the Bush Episcopalians, with their love of cold Maine waters, suddenly had a warm Catholic woman for a daughter-in-law. Then Jeb left Houston, the city he grew up in, and put down roots in the Latino culture of Miami, where his family had little sway. He lost his first race for Governor of Florida in 1994 by fewer than 2 percentage points, and the finish was not pretty.

Bush had been so obsessed with the campaign that he almost lost his family too. Which is why, to those watching the 45-year-old second son of the former President become the front runner in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bush seems so different, so much softer around the edges.

Read the rest of the 1998 story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: Kinder, Gentler—And in the Lead

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