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Jewish World Review April 4, 2000 /28 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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AlGore strikes out again in credibility dept. -- Al Gore's turnaround on Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy living in the United States, is so nakedly political it is almost a breath of fresh air.

No shilly-shallying for Gore. No pretense that his policy has "evolved." Nope, the politics changed and so Gore changed.

One day Gore was for bringing Elian's father from Cuba to a neutral country to determine what he really wanted, and the next day Gore was for passing a law making Elian a permanent resident of this country so family court and not the federal courts could determine whether he will stay or go.

As it happens, I believe Gore's new stance is the correct one. Those who say that the welfare of Elian is paramount -- and this is what most everyone claims -- should welcome the intervention of family court rather than a federal judge wading through the morass of immigration law. Immigration laws were not made with 6-year-old refugees in mind. Family laws were.

But Gore changed his mind not because anything about the case has changed, but because the mood of Cuban-Americans in this country has changed.

In the beginning, the community was split. Some favored keeping Elian free from Castro's Cuba, while others thought no 6-year-old should be kept from his father.

Now, however, that community has largely (and very vocally) coalesced around keeping Elian in Miami with his relatives.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of people in the rest of the country think Elian should be returned.

Further, African-Americans and Latinos with ties to other nations are angry at the special benefits that Cuban refugees get, a status denied Haitians or Salvadorans, for example.

So Gore made two purely political calculations: First, by Election Day this November, the rest of America will not care much about Elian, but Cuban-Americans will. And that is the first reason Gore has decided to pander to that community.

Second -- though political analysts point out that most Cuban-Americans are registered Republicans and Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, has George W. Bush's brother for a governor to boot -- Gore strategy has always been to keep Florida in play.

Clinton/Gore won Florida in 1996, and they took 40 percent of the Cuban-American vote. If Gore can increase that percentage and then appeal to Florida's many retirees with his plans to "rescue" Medicare, he can make a good run at winning the state.

Too late, we know
all and see all
At the very least, his strategists figure, he can force Bush to spend time and money in Florida -- time and money that he can't spend elsewhere. (While Bush set records for fund raising in the primaries, in the general election he is accepting federal matching funds and therefore is limited to spending the same amount as Gore.)

Democrats in Congress are furious with Gore, however. The bill to make Elian a resident is sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, and Democrats in the Senate have threatened to filibuster rather than let the bill pass.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who now opposes Gore over the issue, said: "Reunification with the father is paramount. The sooner we can do it, the less we can make this young boy a pawn, the better."

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York was even more frank. "It hurts Gore throughout the country in terms of credibility," he said. "This legislation is not going to happen. That's again embarrassing."

Gore, however, did pick up a small benefit: His stance is different than that of President Clinton's and such difference, he believes, shows an independence that voters will appreciate.

Bush, who has recently charged Gore with "doing anything to become president" (a line of attack that emerged from focus groups sponsored by the Bush campaign) has been delighted with the Elian flap.

Though Bush's position on Elian is very similar to what Gore's now is, Bush was recently able to take the high road and say: "I am concerned that Al Gore's sudden change of position yesterday may have had more to do with the vice president's political interest that with the best interests of Elian Gonzalez."

Whats that? A candidate for political office acting politically?


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate