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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
January 18, 2012

Reagan v. Clinton 
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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Elian Gonzalez

*For explanation of photo, see Editor's Note below.

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 there.

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

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 Communist.

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 state.

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 laryngitis.

The Reactionary Utopian archives

*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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