In light of President Barack Obama’s historic December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement with Cuba, it is interesting to examine Obama’s earlier statements about Cuba. A prior post examined his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. This post will discuss his campaign for the presidency as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2008. Future posts sill look at his first presidential term (including his 2012 presidential election campaign), 2009-2013; and his second presidential term (up to the December 17, 2014, announcement), 2013-2014.
Remember, as discussed in a prior post, that on August 28, 2008, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. A week later (September 4th) Senator John McCain accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
In the next two months leading to the presidential election on November 4th, the two candidates met in three debates on September 26 and October 7 and 15.
The New York Times thought the first debate on September 26 “was generally a relief from the campaign’s nastiness. Both John McCain and Barack Obama worked to strike a more civil and substantive tone. And Americans could see some differences between the candidates on correcting the regulatory disasters that led to the Wall Street crisis, on how to address the country’s grim fiscal problems and on national security. There were also differences in the candidates themselves. Mr. McCain fumbled his way through the economic portion of the debate, while Mr. Obama seemed clear and confident. Mr. McCain was more fluent on foreign affairs, and scored points by repeatedly calling Mr. Obama naïve and inexperienced.” However, there was no discussion about Cuba.
During the second debate on October 7 McCain criticized Obama for saying he would speak, without preconditions, to the leaders of countries like Pakistan (and presumably Cuba). McCain said he would deal with leaders of foes the way Theodore Roosevelt did: “talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.” Again, no direct discussion about Cuba.
Throughout the last debate on October 15, reported the New York Times, “Mr. McCain offered voters what amounted to a reprise of all the attacks that have been lodged at Mr. Obama over the past year, by Mr. Obama’s Democratic and Republican opponents, Ms. Palin, Republican leaders and, at times, Mr. McCain.” But again no discussion about Cuba.
Moreover, said the Times, “the split-screen visual contrast [in the last debate] between the two men – Mr. McCain often appearing coiled and annoyed, Mr. Obama seeming at ease and smiling – was striking, and may not be what Mr. McCain was looking for a time when Mr. McCain’s favorable ratings have been falling, and when many voters say they think Mr. McCain is spending more time attacking than saying what he would do as president.”
On October 23, the New York Times endorsed Obama. It said, “After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.” The only mention of Cuba in that editorial was this: “Both candidates have renounced torture and are committed to closing the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
In the election on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden obtained 69.5 million votes (52.9% of the total) while John McCain and Sarah Palin received 59.9 million votes (45.7%). In the key state of Florida, Obama-Biden had 51.0% of the popular vote against McCain-Palin’s 48.4%.The electoral votes were Obama and Biden, 365; McCain and Palin, 173.
In his victory speech to an open-air crowd of thousands at Chicago’s Grant Park,Obama siad, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” He went on, “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.” His conclusion was the following: “This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”
After Obama and Joe Biden won the November 2008 election, several head of states congratulated Obama while also calling for the U.S. to end its sanctions against Cuba.
In contrast with the campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, there was practically no mention of Cuba or of Obama’s proposed policies regarding that nation in the presidential race. Surprisingly the emphasis in the nomination campaign on Obama’s willingness to meet, without preconditions, leaders of states like Cuba almost disappeared in the campaign for the presidency.
 This post and the other posts about Obama’s prior statements (and actions) about Cuba are not based upon comprehensive research. The primary research tool was online searching of the New York Times for articles mentioning “Obama and Cuba” for the relevant time period. Therefore, this blogger especially welcomes comments with corrections and additions. This post is based upon the following: Nagourney & Cooper, McCain vows to End ‘Partisan Rancor,’ N.Y. Times (Sept. 4, 2008); Editorial: The First Debate, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2008); Nagourney, Economic Woes Set Tone for Rivals in 2nd Debate, N.Y. Times (Oct. 7, 2008); First Impressions on the Last Debate, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2008); Rutenberg, Candidates Clash Over Character and Policy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2008); Editorial: The Final Debate, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2008); Healy, McCain Attacks, but Obama Stays Steady, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2008); Editorial: Barack Obama for President, N.Y. Times (Oct. 23, 2015); Wikipedia, United States presidential election debates, 2008; Wikipedia, United States presidential election, 2008.