ATLANTA -- When the history of pandering is written, perhaps Al Gore's swoon for Miami's anti-Castro zealots will rate no more than a heavy footnote. The jostling for place is, after all, fierce these days.
But whether it is ultimately judged one of the great grovels or just a standard political one, the vice president's pander is especially pernicious. Going beyond mere conscienceless trolling for votes, Gore's about-face in the matter of Elian Gonzalez back-stabs the president and knee-caps the attorney general.
Where he once supported letting the law takes its course, Gore now says he favors giving the 6-year-old boy resident status so the issue of his custody might be settled in a Florida family court with arguments over whether the boy would be better off staying with his relatives there or being returned to his father in Cuba.
Gee, it's tough to guess how a Florida court might rule on that one.
The political glamour of Gore maybe, just maybe, stealing Florida from George W. Bush right under his governor brother's nose is dazzling. But the vice president does the larger stature of his candidacy no honor with this maneuver.
If successful, Gore's precedent would undermine the hopes of aggrieved Americans seeking to recover children who have been taken abroad, usually by an estranged parent.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 16,500 victims of parental kidnapping are taken abroad annually. The State Department is handling 1,000-plus cases currently. (A two-way street: The department has returned 700 children to foreign parents since September 1995.)
Under both the Hague Convention and U.S. law, only Elian's father has the legal right to speak on his behalf, the point the Clinton administration has been making all along and one now confirmed by specific court ruling.
The grand hullabaloo over Elian has become a political obscenity that, pursuing its own momentum, pays no attention to the fact that an innocent little boy who is its supposed beneficiary has long since become its victim.
The Miami Cubans have managed to exceed even their past excesses -- a daunting challenge. They have been matched and, though they don't seem to get it, have been egged on by a game-playing Fidel Castro who now has a no-lose deal. If Elian returns, Castro claims credit. If the boy stays, Castro usefully demonizes the United States.
The spectacle has brought a long line of supplicant politicians to Miami to have their anti-Castro credentials updated by adding to the hoopla. We now have Miami's mayor all but openly inviting mass resistance to American law.
And, of course, we have a craven vice president.
When there was a flap last year over teaching evolution or creationism in Kansas, Gore -- a rare politician who actually understands and cares about science -- said, in effect, either would be fine.
You know, a couple more times around this track and it ought to look like home to Al Gore.
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