William F. Buckley Jr. wanted to lift the Cuban trade embargo: My day at the Firing Line taping

Kristi and I went to Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., on July 20, 1998, to attend the taping of a Firing Line Debate.

The debate, with eight panelists, was entitled, “Resolved: That the U.S. Should Lift the Cuban Trade Embargo.”

The eminent William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review and an intellectual leader of conservatism in the U.S., was on the affirmative side. Notice that: Buckley supported lifting the embargo.

The great Michael Kinsley was the moderator. Kristi and I were his fans (if not always his compatriots) from his time on CNN’s older form of “Crossfire.” At the time of the debate, he was editor of Slate.

Obviously, this experience with Firing Line comes to mind because President Obama has moved to normalize relations with Cuba — for stated reasons quite similar to Buckely’s reasons.

That remains true even if Obama’s move might differ in details from Buckley’s support for an end to the trade embargo. (I admit I haven’t analyzed real or imagined differences in the details.)

Obama, at today’s press conference, said, “I don’t anticipate overnight changes. But what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome…”

Buckley, in 1998, after describing his opponents’ claims that the U.S. embargo will change Cuba, offered a deep, sonorous, “When?

In July 1998, and certainly before, the embargo’s failure was obvious to Buckley.

(I recalled a few personal details from that day in a blog post published shortly after Buckley’s death in 2008.)

So as some Republicans lash-out at Obama’s decision, with the notable exception of Sen. Rand Paul, they should recall William F. Buckley’s position and realize Obama made a decision that, in spirit if not in details, had some support among conservative and libertarian intellectuals.


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