Obama's change of policy towards Cuba will have an immediate practical effect on Cuban-Americans and Cuba. There will be much more contact, visits, and exchanges. Good stuff all around. Politically, it will have an even more dramatic change. What Obama has done is change the defintion of "normal" with regards to our Cuba policy.
We have had the embargo on Cuba for almost 50 years. Most Americans have grown up with it. It's what we're used to - Cuba is off-limits, Castro is a bad guy, etc. People who questioned this policy were not influential, and many of them (me included) felt powerless to change the situation. We were marginalized by the Cuban-American powerbrokers in Miami who are obsessed with Cuba. All of that was "normal."
Not anymore. Now it is "normal" to think in terms of greater openness with Cuba. I'm writing this on the day after Obama lifted the restrictions, and the game is already changing. Matt Yglesias wrote today about the "faulty logic" of the embargo. Yesterday Steve Clemons at TPM pointed out another bit of faulty logic, this time with Obama's move: it allows Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba. Why just Cuban-Americans? We don't set policy in this country on the basis of people's nationalities. Just imagine if only Russian-Americans were allowed to visit Russia during the Cold War. Ridiculous.
So now we have a new "normal." Opening up to Cuba is now part of the political mainstream. Nothing has really changed in the public's mind. There are still a fair number of die-hard anti-Castro fanatics in Miami. Most Americans still favor more openness with Cuba. But now the momentum has shifted. Now we can open the door a few more cracks.
Over the next few weeks and months, we are going to see pictures of Cuban-Americans who are thrilled that they can finally visit their cousins and aunts and friends. We'll see pictures of Cubans with new cellphones. We'll hear about American businesses making money selling Cubans computers. And we'll start to wonder: we can sell these people computers and satellite TVs. Why not medicines? Why not insurance? Why not cars? And then Obama will say, "Sure, let's do that." And the die-hards will still be screaming, but fewer and fewer people will be listening to them.