Because Cuba is tiny, Fidel Castro has never racked up the body count of the 20th century’s other dictators, despots, and strongmen. But he still might be eviler than they. For neither Hitler, nor Stalin, nor Mao, nor Kim Jong Un, nor Pol Pot, nor Charles Taylor, nor any of the rest possessed the power to turn so many of their enemies into insufferable bores.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the occasionally admirable congresswoman from Miami who embodies much too well the passions of her constituency, has become just such a bore. Over the weekend, while the extraordinary, 62-year-old athlete Diana Nyad was attempting, for the fourth time, to swim the Florida straits — braving swarming jellyfish, sharks, storms, epidermal dehydration, and the torture of salt-tenderized skin to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys — Ros-Lehtinen tweeted:
Media love American swimming from Cuba 2 US. Covering the beatings of Ladies in White in Cuba? Not so much! She says “Courage”. Baloney.
That “courage” was a reference to Ms. Nyad’s mantra. She repeats the word to herself when in agony from jellyfish strings, and contemplating another 48 or 72 hours battling exhaustion and hypothermia in the ocean. To make this point clearer, Ros-Lehtinen deleted that tweet, and replaced it with this one:
Media love to cover Nyad’s swim from Cuba 2 US but the beatings against Damas de Blanco? Not so much. Nyad say “courage” to herself. Really?!
Sometime later it occurred to Ros-Lehtinen that insulting Ms. Nyad so explicitly might be impolitic. She again deleted her tweet, and replaced it with:
Sad that press cover the story of the American swim from Cuba to US yet ignore today’s Damas de Blanco beating (That’s the real courage story!)
– because, apparently, there can be only one “courage story.”
What’s troubling about Ros-Lehtinen’s tweeting isn’t that it denigrates a great American athlete. There’s no mystery to that. Ros-Lehtinen insulted Ms. Nyad because Ms. Nyad’s attempted feat involved Cuba, and, as Rick put it at the South Florida Daily Blog, Ms. Nyad “didn’t flip off Castro as she dove into the water.” (Though it’s interesting to note that press-ganging other people’s apolitical behaviors into a political context was once an exclusively Marxist preoccupation. What happened?) What’s troubling is the stupidity the tweets betray. By hitching her concern for the Damas de Blanco to an insult at a thoroughly admirable celebrity, Ros-Lehtinen guaranteed that any press coverage her tweets might generate would focus on Ros-Lehtinen first, Diana Nyad second, and the Damas de Blanco only vaguely.
The bases, then. Ros-Lehtinen is a moron. Ms. Nyad is a very brave and determined woman, who unfortunately didn’t manage to complete her swim. (She was defeated on day three by weather and jellyfish stings.) And the Damas de Blanco are a group of very brave and long-suffering Cuban dissidents, several members of whom clashed last week with Cuban police after government agents raided the house of a man named Felix Sierra. There was violence inflicted upon the Damas, which is very wrong.
It is not, please note, wrong enough to warrant any kind of press release on Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s website. There isn’t one, even though the press release is the traditional method by which politicians attempt to stir up media interest in their pet passions. Oddly, there are several statements on her website about athletics, including a statement penned in June after Ros-Lehtinen helped push through Congress a resolution commending the Miami Heat on their NBA title:
“The Heat dominated the game from the very start and its win captured the hearts of South Florida fans,” Ros-Lehtinen stated in a release. “This congressional resolution will express the gratitude of the Congress for the team effort of the players, coaching staff and everyone else who worked so hard to bring the NBA Championship to Miami once again. The Miami Heat has proven that through hard work, dedication and perseverance, anything can be achieved. I am also thankful that the Miami Heat organization has remained committed to giving back to the South Florida community. Congratulations once again to our hometown team, the Miami Heat!”
If the sidelines at American Airlines Arena touched Havana, or if the Miami Heat were 62, female, and weathered, Ros-Lehtinen would presumably be less enthusiastic.