Even those who consider Ronald Reagan something less than the ideal
conservative must miss him as they observe Bill Clinton’s handling
of the Elián Gonzalez case.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” Reagan’s ringing
challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall was one of
the most stirring moments of his administration. It resounded throughout
the world, including the Communist world. Without firing a shot, Reagan
dealt a tremendous blow to the legitimacy of Communism. If Clinton
had been president, he’d have pretended the Wall wasn’t
American liberals deplored Reagan’s “bellicosity,” his “Manichean” view
that Communism was a horror and the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” But
his words had their effect. A few years later the infamous Wall came
down. When the Soviet Empire crumbled, it appeared that even liberals
finally realized that Reagan’s view of Communism was shared by
everyone who had lived under Communism.
It shouldn’t have taken the destruction of the Wall to prove
that; the Wall itself was sufficient testimony. Communism is a system
that has to lock people in, threatening them with death if they try
to escape from its “utopia.”
Cuba being an island, Fidel Castro’s version of the Berlin Wall
is a fleet of gunboats that patrol the shorelines and shoot those trying
to flee by water. Elián Gonzalez’s mother was on a small
boat that managed to elude Castro’s killers.
Castro’s philosophy was stated succinctly by Luis Fernandez,
a Cuban diplomat in Washington: Elián is “a possession
of the Cuban government.” That is the issue here. Castro and
his flunkeys don’t even pretend to be supporting the rights of
Elián’s father. Under Communism, all are slaves of the
state, mere “possessions” of the government; now the Cuban
state wants its property back so it can turn him into a good little
Castro even has a special term of abuse for those who try to escape: “worms.” He
needs such a term because so many Cubans do want to leave. Most countries
don’t have that problem and don’t feel compelled to revile
their emigrants. Communist countries always do.
In contrast to Reagan, Clinton has said nothing to challenge Castro’s
right to the moral high ground in this case; hasn’t retorted
to Castro’s bluster that the United States has “kidnapped” Elián;
hasn’t said a word in praise of Elián’s mother’s
courage; hasn’t questioned the legitimacy of Cuban Communism.
It would be easy, and inspiring, for Clinton to make even a brief
Reaganesque statement condemning Castro’s tyranny and demanding
that he let Cubans migrate freely. But Clinton, who is forever pulpiteering
in behalf of “our children,” values good relations with
Castro above human liberty, and in particular above the welfare of
the child who is at the center of this drama. He thinks children must
be protected against tobacco and guns, but not against a totalitarian
Unlike most previous presidents, Clinton doesn’t see himself
as the leader of a country that takes pride in standing for freedom.
He doesn’t feel viscerally that he is the moral opposite of a
Castro. So he isn’t inclined to argue with Castro about principle
in order to dramatize the difference between American liberty and Communism — assuming
he even thinks there are significant moral differences between the
two. Maybe the greying New Leftist of the Sixties just can’t
bring himself to criticize Fidel, an icon of the New Left.
If anything is more shameful than Clinton’s moral cowardice,
it’s the bitter hostility of the liberal press to the Miami Cubans
who have escaped Castro and want to protect Elián from him too.
Liberals accuse the exiled Cubans of “politicizing” Elián’s
case for insisting on his right to be free. The
New York Times suggests
that “their animosity toward Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader” has “clouded
their judgment.” The truth is that the Cuban exiles’ experience
of the Cuban “leader” has given them clearer judgment than
the Times, which has plenty of vitriol for the “obdurate foes
of Mr. Castro,” but none for “Mr. Castro” himself.
If Clinton wants a memorable “legacy,” he could stand
up to Fidel Castro — not militarily, but morally. But he won’t.
Faced with a Communist tyrant, our most voluble president has developed
*Editor's Note: In 1999, Elián Gonzalez was the only survivor
on a boat of people fleeing Communist Cuba. (His mother and many others
drowned.) With no warning, in the middle of the night on April 22,
2000, agents of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service stormed
Elián's uncle's Miami residence, captured the 6-year old boy
at gunpoint, and sent him back to Cuba, greatly pleasing Fidel Castro.
Copyright © 2012 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on April 6, 2000.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
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