Tomgram: Grandin, Castro’s Long Run… in U.S. Presidential Politics

[Note to Readers: A weekend away and off-line means that the next dispatch will not be sent out until Tuesday March 11th and responses to email at the site may be especially slow. ]

As the Obama-Clinton primary tussle threatens to go right through, perhaps, November 2010, the political news is everywhere: The superdelegates are “feeling the pressure”; those 795 nabobs of the Democratic Party, once meant in part as a brake against a popular Democrat from off-the-ranch threatening to run away with the nomination, now find themselves under the gun. This nomination can’t be decided without them.

After all these years, only one “superdelegate” undoubtedly feels no pressure at all. Fidel Castro is the Methuselah of U.S. presidential politics. He is the only survivor among the major players from the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, not to speak of playing a role in every presidential campaign since. As Greg Grandin, the author of the indispensable Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, tells us, like a horn of plenty that never stops flowing, Fidel’s aura never stops giving when U.S. presidential candidates need to outflank each other on the right.

If Castro is now on his last legs and so “in” his last U.S. election, so is George W. Bush, who embraced John McCain’s candidacy on Wednesday. At a recent news conference, the President, who has staked his reputation on his notorious prison at Guantanamo, nonetheless reaffirmed his absolute unwillingness to talk to, or negotiate with, new Cuban leader Raul Castro on these grounds: “I’m not suggesting there’s never a time to talk, but I’m suggesting now is not the time — not to talk with Raul Castro. He’s nothing more than an extension of what his brother did, which was to ruin an island, and imprison people because of their beliefs.”

The odds are, though, that charisma-less brother Raul, who just inherited the leadership mantle in Cuba, can never play the iconic role in American politics that Fidel has played for nearly half a remarkable century. You don’t call a sub off the bench to stand in for Babe Ruth. Tom

Fidel Castro, the First Superdelegate

By Greg Grandin”Long ere the second centennial arrives,” Walt Whitman predicted in 1871, “there will be some forty to fifty great States,” among them Cuba. It was a common enough belief. From Thomas Jefferson onward, many Americans thought that, as Secretary of State James Blaine said in 1881, “Cuba must necessarily become American.”

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