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Jewish World Review April 28, 2000/ 23 Nissan, 5760

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America's Badge of Shame:
Clinton lets Reno do the dirty work again


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT WAS ALMOST 5:30 last Saturday morning when a journalist instant e-mailed me, asking "Can you believe what's going on?" I'd been reading the dailies-stewing about Frank Rich's New York Times foray into kiddie porn-and I wasn't quite sure what my friend was referring to. The new Michael Weisskopf/Susan Schmidt book on Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr? "No, Elian! Turn on any tv!"

Watching again and again the replay of the military-style snatch of Elian Gonzalez, I was reminded of the conclusion to Dog Day Afternoon. Even in the midst of the Miami chaos, it was obvious the final victim in this no-win tragedy was still to be determined. I certainly hope it's Clinton, who hid behind Janet Reno's skirt for months on the issue and then later in the day praised her for upholding the law.

As if he would know anything about that. Once again, it proves that Clinton is a person of ill repute and completely devoid of morals. His presidency is a stain on the history of the United States.

The image captured by the Associated Press' Al Diaz, which will be remembered as THE PHOTO, was sickening, reminding anyone over the age of 40 of the young woman screaming over a dead student at Kent State University in 1970, or of the execution-pistol to the head-of a Vietcong lieutenant during that war. Douglas Brinkley, the historian who disgracefully pontificated on countless news programs last year after John F. Kennedy Jr. died, said of the photo: "It looks large today. It'll look small come September." He hopes so, since his preference for Al Gore-Brinkley wrote a valentine to the Vice President in Hillary Clinton's magazine of record, Talk, last year-is well-documented.

As I clicked between the Clinton News Network (CNN) and FOX it was clear this was by far the most frightening and emotional live tv footage I've witnessed since returning from church on Nov. 24, 1963 and seeing Lee Harvey Oswald rubbed out by Jack Ruby. For once, the media saturation-in contrast to the deaths of JFK's son and Princess Di, the O.J. Simpson farce and the JonBenet Ramsey murder-was justified. Whereas CNN's nonstop coverage of the Columbine shootings a year ago, which included the funerals of a few victims, was ratings-driven and even dangerous, given America's copycat society, the coverage of the Gonzalez break-in was a vivid and necessary airing of a Justice Department gone mad.

Miami's Mayor Joe Carollo was livid as reporters lined up to get his reaction. He appealed to the citizens of Little Havana to forsake violence, saying that a massive disruption would only further buck up a jubilant Fidel Castro, "the tyrant, the criminal, the murderer." Carollo also said, echoing other elected officials in Miami, "Our federal government trampled on the rights of a loving, caring family. We had federal agents go in as if they assaulting a military bunker, where we only had decent, patriotic, hardworking, humble men, women and children." Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart added, with little hyperbole in my opinion, that the raid was "an Orwellian monstrosity... a Gestapo-style action. This is shameful. I hope the American people realize what is going on."

A few hours later, live on NBC, Elian's cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez gave a tour of the house to a reporter, alternately raging and weeping as she showed how the Clinton-Reno commandos had broken doors, smashed the six-year-old's bed, and defiled a statue of the Virgin Mary and a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She recounted the brief procedure, claiming an INS agent said, "Give me the boy or I'm going to shoot." She told them: "Don't let the boy see this! I'll give you the boy! Please don't let the boy see the guns!"

Also live at the same time was Donato Dalrymple, one of the men who rescued Elian from the sea, now forever known as Donato the Fisherman, crying as he told the reporter-and viewers, as he looked into the camera-about the gun pointed at him and the child he was holding. He screamed that, as an American, he didn't think the government would behave like Castro or other dictators. Marisleysis Gonzalez reappeared and said: "I thought this was a country of freedom... [Reno] lied to this country and, to me, she doesn't have a heart."

As the footage was shown repeatedly on most tv channels all through the day, it was hard to believe that the next poll on the controversy wouldn't show different results: since November, most Americans have said the boy should be sent back to Cuba. Nevertheless, a Saturday afternoon Gallup/CNN poll still had 57 percent of the country supporting the administration's despicable action. I don't think that will last. No matter what spin the Clinton administration puts on the raid, the image of Donato the Fisherman holding Elian with an INS agent pointing a gun at them won't be erased.

The Elian Gonzalez saga is a defining moment in the subterranean life of the nation. And everyone knows it.

A buddy e-mailed at 8:30, asking, "Did you see the picture on the 'Drudge Report' of the government thug pointing an automatic weapon at the man holding Elian? I can't believe they did this. Reno is an animal. Why aren't the Republican leaders speaking out?"

Not long after, Gov. George W. Bush, for once not dodging a controversial issue, released the most articulate and harsh statement of the day. He said, in part: "I am profoundly saddened and troubled that the administration was not able to negotiate a resolution and instead decided to use force to take a little boy from the place he calls home in the middle of the night. When Elian's mother gave her life to bring her son to the land of the free, she could not have possibly dreamed that it would have come to this. Ours is a nation of laws, not guns.

Custody disputes are resolved in the calm of a courtroom, not in the terror of middle of the night raids... The chilling picture of a little boy being removed from his home at gunpoint defies the values of America and is not an image a freedom loving nation wants to show the world. I hope that our citizens will do a better job than the administration has of showing the world the best of America by remaining calm and peaceful."

Lott
Shortly after Bush's statement, equally damning words came from Majority Leader Trent Lott, Florida Sen. Connie Mack and GOP Whip Tom DeLay.

Detractors will insist that Bush was pandering-a la Al Gore-but he's been consistent from the beginning in saying that Elian Gonzalez would be better off in the United States, as has Sen. John McCain. While it's true that Bush has, as Paul Gigot pointed out in Friday's Wall Street Journal, gone overboard with the campaign promises in an effort to appeal to independent voters, his position on Elian Gonzalez has been unequivocal, even though a majority of Americans have disagreed. Bush's statement on Saturday was the first indication he's given that he's a leader of the Republican Party; it's no accident that the rank and file followed after he acted first.

Gore, who had no role in Reno's decision, was squishy as ever in his terse remarks: "As I have said, I believe this issue should have been handled through a family court and with the family coming together. I commend the people of Miami, who in the first difficult hours acted in a calm and lawful way, and I ask all Americans, no matter what their position on this issue, to obey the rule of law."

I wonder why the Vice President never asked his boss to "obey the rule of law." In addition, if Gore had wanted to show some guts and repair the damage to his character he's shown by trolling for Cuban-American votes in Florida, he'd have called for Reno's resignation. That wouldn't have secured his election this fall-as his resignation from office, accompanied by a citation of Clinton's lawlessness, would have-but it would've been a decisive break from a corrupt administration that he needs to distance himself from. But Gore can't cut the apron (and fundraising) strings.

On Sunday, the lead sentences of the Gonzalez story in both The Washington Post and New York Times were unusually graphic, especially for newspapers that do little to hide their pro-Clinton bias. Karen DeYoung wrote in the Post: "Eight helmeted, SWAT-equipped federal agents broke down the front door of the Miami home of Elian Gonzalez's relatives before dawn yesterday and removed the boy, avoiding serious incident but sparking a day of sporadic violence and demonstrations in Little Havana." Rick Bragg, in the Times, was grittier, spitting out words like a wartime correspondent: "Armed United States immigration agents smashed their way into the Little Havana home of Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives before dawn today, took the sobbing 6-year-old boy from a bedroom closet and flew him to a reunion with his father outside Washington."

Surprisingly, the Times, in its late Sunday editions, ran an editorial that was highly critical of the administration, in stark contrast to The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe. While it was expected that The Miami Herald, which ran its negative edit on its front page-"In the aftermath of Saturday's shocking predawn raid by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, it is imperative that Miami remain calm"-the stinging words from the Times' Ivory Tower were a welcome jolt.

Reno
I never miss an opportunity to bash the most overrated newspaper in the world, but on this issue the Times rose to the occasion, favoring truth over white-stretch-limo liberal partisanship. An excerpt of the editorial: "The sight of heavily armed federal agents breaking into Lazaro Gonzalez's Miami home before dawn yesterday to take custody of Elian Gonzalez is a disturbing picture for all Americans, and is likely to haunt the country for years to come... Ms. Reno was quick to note the agent did not have his finger on the trigger, and was not pointing the rifle at Elian, but that offers little solace to a nation that is wondering today why the government, with all its power, could not have acted with greater restraint and continued patience."

The Los Angeles Times felt otherwise: "Reno made a hard decision and made it stick... This drama has not ended, but it's taken a positive turn." The Washington Post was also in the Attorney General's hip pocket, writing: "The Government did the right thing, cleanly and well... The government raid was swift, deft and solicitous as regards the boy, and it was the relatives who provoked it." I'd like to know what nitwit at the Post actually believes that the presence of machine guns and the trashing of the house where he'd lived was "solicitous as regards the boy."

In addition, the Post took a swipe at Gore and Bush, saying, "Two champions of family values flee responsibility in pursuit of votes." I'll leave the robotic Gore out of this, but if Bush was really "in pursuit of votes," he wouldn't have uttered a peep on Saturday, since most of the country doesn't agree with his stance on Elian's future. Instead, he swiftly reacted with a human expression of dismay and disgust, concerned more with the atrocious image the United States has presented to the world than with the votes of Cuban-Americans, which he's already locked up anyway.

New York senatorial candidate Hillary Clinton, of course, kept her mouth shut until 48 hours after the fact. Rudy Giuliani, the First Lady's opponent, was voluble in his criticism at a press conference at the Javits Center on Saturday. It was an ironic statement, since the Mayor is well-known for his strong-arm tactics, from his publicity-seeking Wall Street indictments in the 80s to his current lack of sensitivity on matters trivial and large today. He was a questionable messenger, but the sentiment itself was on target: "It was one of the saddest days we've seen... pointing guns at people to rip a boy away from a family that is caring for him, and a boy who has at least indicated an interest in growing up in democracy and freedom."

It's not a stretch to imagine Giuliani as U.S. Attorney General, with a different set of political cards, carrying out the same maneuver as Reno.

First Soul Brother and Fidel
But on the topic of irony, what could top First Soul Brother Jesse Jackson's opinion, as recorded by Fox: "It was a very successful rescue mission." I wonder what Jackson's alleged mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose death Jackson exploited to advance his own career, would have to say about the Reno-Clinton Miami break-in.

And let's not forget the ugly words of Juan Miguel Gonzalez's representative, Gregory Craig, one of Clinton's impeachment lawyers, who released the smiling photos of Elian and his father to the press. While Lazaro and Marisleysis Gonzalez raged against the injustice inflicted upon them and Elian, Craig smugly told reporters that the duo should remain quiet instead of holding another press conference to make demands and "transporting their soap opera from Miami to Washington, DC." Next to Clinton, Craig is the most obvious pig in the sordid events of the past week.

Finally, both Time and Newsweek, in their May 1 editions, revealed once again their reflexive support for almost anything President Clinton does. Time was worse than its competitor, with a cover headline reading "Papa!" in the middle of the Craig-sanctioned reunion picture and a caption that referred to Elian's "dad" under a small rendering of THE PHOTO in the lower left corner.

Newsweek's cover featured a screaming Elian right after he was kidnapped by a federal agent, with an inset of father and son safely in Maryland. Jonathan Alter's "Conventional Wisdom" was in the worst possible taste, titled "Special Hasta la Vista, Baby, Edition," and ridiculing Elian's Miami relatives. However, the magazine redeemed itself with George Will's column "Compassionate Liberalism," an essay that ranks among the finest in his long career.

Will begins: "The Clinton administration, which thinks it takes a village to raise a child, knows that a masked SWAT-type team with battering ram, automatic weapons and pepper spray suffices to snatch a child, terrified, in a predawn raid. But Elian was fortunate. The last time Janet Reno-one of the worst attorneys general in American history and certainly the most lethal-inflicted her caring on children, they were incinerated... Fear of child abuse was Reno's excuse for launching what became the Waco inferno."

He continues: "Most Americans, influenced by the drumbeat of the media and the Clinton administration, favor returning Elian to Cuba. They say they are concerned with parental rights. Well, Cuba isn't. Its policy is that parents have rights only 'as long as their influence does not go against the political objectives of the state.' Children need fathers, but they need the culture of freedom even more...

"Like a snail crossing a sidewalk, the Clinton administration leaves a lengthening trail of slime, this time on America's national honor."

As eloquent and stinging as Will's words are, he lets creeps like Clinton and Craig off relatively easy. Future historians won't be so gracious.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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