US President Barack Obama with Cuban President Raul Castro

You’ve really got to hand it to Fidel. The 89-year-old former Cuban president is not giving his twilight years to the easy glow of Murder Mystery TV, such as I fully intend to. Rather, he is raging against the dying of the light of Marxist-Leninism, and this week delivered the US President an illuminating memo. In red.

The event-management of Obama’s tour to Cuba had proceeded, more or less, unhindered. Press used the word “historic” a lot to describe these moments of baby-soft, photo-friendly diplomacy. Not even reproach by Republican nominee John Kasich could stop the happy westward flow of images portraying the US President at a Havana baseball game. It seemed everyone agreed that The Cubans Are Just Like Us and that Obama exuded democratic warmth sufficient to thaw those differences of 50 cold years.

Then, Fidel Castro snapped his patrol cap and let loose with a J’accuse! in the party paper, Gramma. And some in the West actually listened.

In Havana, Obama had said that the two nations had come “as friends and as neighbours and as family, together”. In his correspondence, Castro the elder said that such “syrupy” American fare put all Cubans “at risk of a heart attack”. He also said some stuff about how we were all just dialectical breakbeats in the great extended mix of history and, to bear out his point, returned to the events of 1961 and then to the time of the conquistadors. The message being, more or less, that communists prefer the unvarnished lessons of history, whereas liberals like to sugar-coat it before they make you swallow it.

Like any Leninist, this guy is in the habit of writing things down. So this is hardly the first time Castro has burst into print with his opinions on bourgeois hypocrisy. It is one of the few times, however, that his distaste for what he calls “the empire” has received close attention outside Cuba, and, honestly, not all of the Western coverage dismisses him as a silly old man.

There’s not much patience for communism these days. But there is, it seems, a hunger for forthright speech. While there has been scant focus on Castro’s undiminished belief in revolution, there was a good deal of patience yesterday for his charge that Obama was a deceptively sweet talker.

While it’s true that in the Australia of the present, many citizens prefer a sugary speech — Labor frontbencher Jason Clare was one of very many curiously relieved that the new Prime Minister’s talk no longer reeked of onion — there are those other contemporary Westerners who could do without the nice breath.

In fact, in the US, there are millions clearly desperate for obscenity. While Donald Trump’s policies may remain un-costed or unexamined by any adviser in receipt of half a clue, his speech, like Castro’s, comes to some as an invigorating blast of foul air.

For some who endure political debate, it’s not so much what you say but the degree of artlessness with which you can say it. If your vulgarity is sufficiently vulgar so as to show liberalism’s insincerity, there are plenty who will listen to you, even if you have nothing to say.

Hardly anyone listens to a communist in the present era. Very few are listening to the substance of Trump’s quixotic plans to build walls and “ban” all Muslims. What they’re listening for is only the vulgarity. Politics, many rationally suppose, is a vulgar business. And they’d rather this great vulgarity no longer be dusted with sugar.

There is good reason to suspect that all this syrup will stop the heart of democracy. A value-neutral language, such as that spoken by Obama, sounds to many as it very often is: a form of bloodless concealment. The death of civilians is “collateral damage”. An enemy has become a “state of concern”. Torture is now an “interrogation technique” and war on Libya was sliced-and-diced by the US Department of State to be less a war than it was a “kinetic military action” — although Hilary was momentarily averse to euphemism, boasting of Gaddafi’s end, “We came. We saw. He died.

In an era where obscene actions are largely described in the moderate and rational language such as Obama spoke in Cuba, it’s no small wonder that there are those who crave obscene speech.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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