"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
An Ode to Cuban Cigars
I should probably devote this column to New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's recent announcement that he will step down for having had a homosexual affair'that seems to be the 'it' story of the moment. But I don't think I'm going to write about that. For one thing, I'm behind the curve. I was out of the country'and trying to avoid all forms of news'when the announcement came (and you've probably read more than enough about it by now). I do think it's ironic, though, that this happened the same week I was on my honeymoon. Why? Because as I said back in March, the fact that I needed the State of New Jersey's permission to get married means I basically married both McGreevey and my wife. See? I told you there was something flimsy about him. Thank God I moved to Pennsylvania. Slap a mustache and glasses on Ed Rendell, I could probably learn to love him in that Wilford-Brimley-grandfather-figure sort of way. But that's neither here nor there.
Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about today. No. Because, quite frankly, I don't care if McGreevey's a homosexual. It affects me about as much as it seems to be affecting his wife'which is to say it doesn't affect me at all. The only thing I'm bothered by is the idea that the press should leave him alone and 'let him do his job' until he officially moves out of Drumthwacket Mansion in November. If 'doing his job' includes making unqualified appointments'on homeland security, no less'in return for sexual favors, I say hound him till the Jersey cows come home.
But I don't walk to talk about that today, either. What I want to talk about is this: I am a Castro supporter.
Let me explain.
I am not, in the literal sense, a fan of Fidel. I have no sympathies for communist despots. I am a freedom-loving libertarian-type of person; I am not a team player, and I abhor central planning. But I am, by conventional wisdom, a Castro supporter. I came to this conclusion when I returned to the States from Aruba last week with a single Cuban cigar. They're easy to buy in Aruba, you know'like buying a box of Blueberry Morning. The one I brought home was a $25 Cohiba. I smuggled it into the country by wrapping it in a hotel washcloth and stuffing it in between toothpaste and hairspray. 'You can't do that,' people had told me. 'You can't bring Cuban cigars into America. You aren't allowed. We have an embargo.'
True. But I went ahead and helped Castro's economy in some small, incalculable way nonetheless.
So why would I do this? Why would I make a purchase the equivalent of wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt? Well, the best way to explain it is to share with you an anecdote. During my trip, an Aruban asked me why it was, exactly, that Americans weren't allowed to bring Cuban cigars through U.S. customs. 'Because we live in a dictatorship,' I told him, unironically. My wife quickly shot back, 'No, it's because Cubans live in a dictatorship.' In fact, I think we were both right. America's Cuban embargo is based on the [insane] belief that somehow, if we just stop buying Cuban products, Castro will go away. And the ends are desirable, of course; Castro sucks as a person. But if you ask me, breaking the locks off my luggage looking for smokes'as the Transportation Security Administration did'makes our government no better than his.
And so I have three reasons for opposing the embargo.
First of all, it's been around since 1961. That's a pretty long time. If it was going to work, you have to assume it would've worked by now. But it hasn't. Castro's still in power. He's the world's longest reigning dictator. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton have all come and gone since he first came to power. The man's even outlasted the entire combined run of M*A*S*H, Seinfeld, and Cheers. If the embargo was meant to isolate Cuba and flatten its communist framework, it's failed.
(They say insanity is using the same method over and over, expecting different results. That's a good way of looking at this situation. It's also why I'm not looking forward to the Joey spin-off of Friends.)
Secondly, what's the knock on communism? That it necessarily strangles the free market? Well, if you're against that, I'm with you all the way. But forbidding the purchase of Cuban cigars is a funny way of striking a blow for free market economics. In a free market, consumer demand writes the rules. So if America's interested in leading the free world'an oxymoronic concept, but work with me here'we would do well to lead by example instead of by force and protectionist tactics. Open the market. Lift the restrictions. Let freedom ring, and people will hear it. That's a money-back guarantee.
Finally, the third reason I disagree with the embargo is because it is dumb. I love a good stogie, but I'm no connoisseur. From what I can tell, though'after visiting Aruba'Cuban cigars aren't that much better than others. They're better; just not that much. But you'd never know this based on the way Americans savor them. Here, they're seen as deliciously wicked forbidden fruit. And that's just the thing: The Cubans I smoked in Aruba weren't more enjoyable because they were better; they were more enjoyable because I wasn't supposed to be enjoying them. It was an act of civil disobedience, and this gave me great satisfaction. Smoking a Cuban was like smoking the plank in Big Brother's eye. It served him right. And it tasted good.
So if, by conventional wisdom, this makes me a Castro supporter'so be it. Guilty as charged. If I'm going to give up some freedoms, it's going to be to my wife. She's at least earned it. Our government'under the reigns of such men as Jim McGreevey, whose actions are despicable no matter who the hell he sleeps with'has not.
Viva la revolucion.