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Published on Thursday, April 6, 2000 in the Washington Post
Fools For Elián
by Richard Cohen
 
Certain people believe Elian Gonzalez was sent to America for a purpose. They believe that in the sea, he was ringed by dolphins who protected him from ravenous fish. They say that in his room an image of the Virgin Mary has appeared. I, too, think Elian was saved for a purpose, although it is not a religious one. It is to make fools of politicians.

First on the list is Al Gore. After breaking with his own administration and looking like a caricature of a pandering politician, the vice president has since issued statement after statement clarifying nothing except, maybe, his desire to be on all sides of the issue.

As best I can make out, Gore thinks the boy belongs with his father unless, of course, a state court (and not the feds) decides otherwise. Whatever happens, Gore wants to do the best for Elian and to make sure that not a single Cuban American in Florida or even New Jersey becomes irate and votes, as they usually do, Republican. When this happens, it will be known as El Milagro de Los Dos Gores.

Next on the list is George W. Bush. His position is more straightforward. He, too, wants the matter settled in state court by a judge who is likely to be pressured by Florida's Cuban American community. He thinks Elian should be made a citizen, bypassing all the usual pesky requirements. The general idea, I take it, is to ensure that Elian never goes back to Cuba. This would put his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, in the enviable position of having to choose between his country and his son. We can call this "Juan Miguel's Choice" and wonder if William Styron will write the book.

Up next is the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Alex Penelas. If "civil unrest and violence" resulted from efforts to take Elian from his relatives, he said in a ringing declaration of nonprinciple, it would be the fault of Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton--and not, for some reason, the rioters. Clinton and Reno, I take it, would be guilty of enforcing the law, which is more than Penelas originally said he would do.

Although a Cuban American, he has quickly assimilated the traditions of the South and, in the manner of George Wallace, Orval Faubus and countless semi-literate sheriffs, vowed to defy the feds. He is said to have ambitions for higher office and, as if to prove it, later clarified his statements to say he would do what the law requires. This man has the makings of an Al Gore running mate.

Next we come to all those conservatives who have been exalting the family and fatherhood all these years. Elian has done a number on them, too. Some, in fact, have been bitter critics of Hillary Clinton because she wrote two law review articles in the 1970s extolling children's rights. For saying there were extreme circumstances in which the child's welfare or the greater social good outweighed parental authority, Hillary was roundly condemned. Patrick Buchanan lambasted her from the podium of the 1992 GOP National Convention.

But what are these people saying now? They are waxing Clintonesque, arguing that Elian has certain inalienable rights that outweigh those of his father. They are saying what Hillary Clinton once said, although in a different context, and they are oblivious to how foolish they look. It seems the mere mention of Fidel Castro's name makes blithering idiots of some people.

As for Castro, he must be included in our list of fools. For no reason, he warned that Elian might be killed by his Miami relatives rather than be allowed to return home. He has organized demonstrations in Havana and insisted that Juan Gonzalez be accompanied to America by Elian's schoolmates, a team of psychologists and a government official. It appears that the CIA's efforts to make Castro crazy are paying off.

We must not neglect Elian's Miami relatives. They have put words in the child's mouth, thinking we would accept them as the truth. They have accused the father of being neglectful and brutal when that does not seem to be the case. They have tried to turn the boy into a religious icon. It's hard to know which emotion is paramount: hatred of Castro or love of Elian.

This leaves just Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez, son and father. The former is an innocent child, the latter a man whose boy was taken from him. Elian has behaved like a typical 6-year-old, Juan Miguel like a typical father. And most of the politicians like typical fools.

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