The Buena Vista Smokers Club

I’ll admit I didn’t always understand the negative light shed by so many liberal journalists on the backroom dealings of Capital Hill. I’ve always looked fondly on the big-money closed-door trading that forms the gnarled backbone of American democracy. I’d find these rooms almost womblike, filled with murky air and sallow white flesh, someplace a corruptible fellow like myself could really feel at home. In fact, I was shooting craps with Tom DeLay at one of these “events” last month, reminiscing about that time he shot me while I was trying to hop his back fence after stealing his barbeque, when the most remarkable thing happened: I was just getting to the part of the story about how much fun we had picking the buckshot out of my thigh and drinking Nescafe flavored coffee when Rep. Ernest Intook and the other members of the House-Senate bargaining committee dropped provisions lifting the four-decade-old ban on travel to Cuba off a bill that had already been approved by both houses. I was a little taken aback, of course, having already planned my Christmas trip to stock up on cigars and communist propaganda, so I asked Ernie why they were dropping the provision. “So as not to embarrass the president” was the only reply I received.

Not to embarrass the president? Where the hell were these guys during the rest of Bush’s term? And why did they have to not embarrass him at the expense of my Robustos? To make my point, I threw a bottle of Wild Turkey at Bill Frist’s head and was shortly thereafter removed from the building, permanently.

The bill in question, an $88.9 billion measure for the transportation and treasury departments, was under threat of veto from the White House if the Cuba provisions were not dropped. Among the casualties of this would be $1.22 billion earmarked for Amtrak, money for important highway repairs and surprisingly enough the annual congressional pay raise.

Embarrass the president? It seems more like the committee members were protecting the down payment on their new yachts. What could embarrass the president here? “Veto” is a very short word and I’m sure not one beyond his understanding. More so, it smells like this was another case of pressures from on high. In October, Bush made a statement from the rose garden warning, “The Cuban regime will not change by its own choice.” He introduced a program through the Department of Homeland Security “to hasten the arrival of a new, free, democratic Cuba” by heightening inspections on vessels traveling to and from the island. Is it to protect our borders or another step to keep me from my cigars?

Actually, Bush’s fierce anti-Cuba behavior is a matter of political survival. There are 800,000 Cuban exiles living in Florida who as a majority are intensely anti-Castro and who represent the political livelihood of Bush’s brother, and Florida governor, Jeb, who is currently up for re-election. Plus, Florida was a trouble state for Bush in the 2000 election (chads anyone?) and every vote will help come this time next year.

But Bush’s aggression extends beyond the perpetuation of embargos that have proved futile for the past 40 years. His language has taken on a sense of panic reminiscent of that concerning another little country in the Mideast.

In July, Bush phased out the educational series “People to People,” a program that has been endorsed by every president since Eisenhower that allows individuals to travel to Cuba with the goal of creating connections and understanding in fields ranging from childcare to music. Bush calls it guise for tourism to Cuba and claims it’s a means to fund the regime of Fidel Castro.

Last year, Bush’s administration also asserted that Cuba was developing biological weapons for itself and other “rogue states” throughout the world, a groundless accusation dispelled by none other than hapless ex-president and human rights superstar Jimmy Carter. After a visit with Bush administrators concerning his own journey to Cuba, Carter stated, “I asked them myself on more than one occasion if there was any evidence that Cuba has been involved in sharing any information with any country on earth that could be used for terrorist purposes. And the answer from our experts on intelligence was no.”

If Bush is attempting to take some attention from the immense failure in Iraq, then why not concentrate on “rogue states” that pose an actual threat. North Korea has made statements saying it has the technology to produce weapons-grade plutonium and intends to sell it on the world market. What could Cuba possibly have to offer as a political scapegoat? Thanks to the embargos, its economy is in ruins. It’s a human rights nightmare and its big scary dictator is nearing a wobbly 80 years old. Communism’s hold on Cuba is slipping and it’s only a matter of time before its creeps out on its own without any further pressure from the United States. It’s an effortless target for Bush, and one that won’t change his political status quo one bit … or maybe that’s just the point. Bush can create and dispel a threat from Cuba just in time for elections next year, and all at the expense of my cigars. Well, I’ll show him. Who needs cigars? I was getting tired of the stink anyhow, and smoking at home doesn’t hold nearly the thrill those Capital hill offices did. I’m moving on, and I’ve got a guy in Columbia who claims he can get me in on the ground floor of … umm, on second thought, never mind.