Posted on April 30, 2000
Washing Our Hands of Elian
Lazy minds abet another villain
According to the polls, a solid majority of Americans say that Elian Gonzalez should be sent back to Cuba, because that's where his only surviving parent lives, and a child should be raised by his parents. The fact that this is not a viable option doesn't seem to have dampened the public's resolve in the least.
Nobody can seriously believe that Elian, once returned to Cuba, is going to be raised by Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Even under ordinary circumstances in Castro's Cuba, there are no such things as parental rights. Parents are only allowed to watch over their children for as long as they properly and effectively indoctrinate them to be good communist citizens. Teachers are used as monitors, keeping scorecards of children's thoughts and attitudes. If Castro's government is not satisfied by the parents' efforts, it takes the children away. The Elian debate has been framed as one between parental rights on one side, and the best interests of the child on the other, but returning him to Cuba would address neither concern.
Moreover, the Cuban government has already indicated that Elian will not be placed in Mr. Gonzalez' care upon their return, but will instead be taken into government custody for psychological examination and reprogramming. They say they only expect this to take about ninety days, but they'll likely find that to have been an optimistic estimate. Elian has been exposed to the horrific atrocities of capitalism for five months now. How many more months will it be before he is taught to think more highly of Fidel Castro than Donald Duck? Elian is now six years old. How old will he be by the time he is deemed well enough to be placed in his father's care? Eight? Nine?
By the time Elian is eleven, he will be taken away from home anyway, and sent off to one of Fidel's "boarding schools," where he will spend half his time undergoing intensive communist indoctrination, and the other half working the sugar cane fields. By then, we will no longer hear any wails of "the boy belongs with his father!" coming from the American public. The important thing is that he will have gone away, his ubiquitous image never again to invade our living rooms.
To be sure, we have reached our saturation point with this issue. It's understandable that so many Americans, this one included, would like the story to disappear. The question is whether we are willing to sacrifice one person's freedom to spare ourselves any further discomfort.
Castro is now benefiting from the same public lethargy which aided President Clinton throughout the impeachment hearings. In the end, people stopped being inquisitive about what's right or wrong; they simply wanted to get it over with. The Senators acquitted a president they knew was guilty, because their pollsters told them that the American people wanted to put the whole thing behind them. We needed "closure," talking heads told us repeatedly. Since Clinton was eager to "move on," it was not he who incited the nation's anger, but Ken Starr and the House Republicans, who refused to "let it drop."
Elian's Miami relatives won't let it drop, either. Their ongoing series of legal challenges could drag the whole story out for months yet to come. Castro, Clinton and Janet Reno, all of whom are seeking a more immediate solution, appear much less callous to all our suffering.
Whenever a major controversy has outlived its own entertainment value, the public is offered a moral equivalence among the parties involved, so that it can feel justified in disgustedly casting the whole matter aside.
When this is done, the real culprit's illegal and immoral acts will be likened to any offense, however trivial, committed by another of the parties involved. Remember that it took only a snotty remark from Olympic skater and clubbing victim Nancy Kerrigan for a moral equivalence to be drawn between her and her rival, Tonya Harding, whose trained gilooly had carried out the assault.
Of course, nobody can manipulate these relativist tendencies like Bill Clinton's defenders. To the Geraldo Riveras and Eleanor Clifts of the world, the president's perjury was no more serious an offense than Ken Starr's representing "Big Tobacco," Linda Tripp's being a "bad friend" or Paula Jones' nose job. Once the impression is made that everyone involved is equally wrong, then anyone who criticizes one of the scandal's participants any more than the others is deemed a hypocrite.
It has been especially easy to employ this tactic against Elian's relatives in Miami, because their wrongdoings have been significant. Their unsubstantiated public accusations of abusiveness against Juan Miguel were as unfair as they were unproductive, and their videotaped message from Elian was clearly manipulative (although it was not a "hostage tape" as critics blathered -- Elian was not being held there at gunpoint, he was only removed that way). The Miami Gonzalez family deserves sharp public criticism for these acts. But they do not deserve to be equated with Fidel Castro.
It's not coincidental that such equivalencies tend to benefit the real villains. If everybody is presumed to be bad, then the bad guys are just ordinary people, so why punish them? As a result, Tonya Harding has embarked on a lucrative career as a professional skater and amateur hubcap assailant, President Clinton has managed to cling to power for two more years, and Castro has tightened his grip on potential escapees from his island, by demonstrating that he can retrieve one of them from within the borders of the freest nation on earth.
One would hope that Americans would be able to make a moral distinction between ordinary people who have made a couple poor ethical decisions, and a ruthless dictator who is demanding the return of his "property" in the form of a human being. Unfortunately, it appears to be the conclusion drawn by many that, since everybody involved in this situation is sullied, it's best to forget the whole thing by sending the boy away.
This is a natural conclusion drawn by a society which has become conditioned to think that world events are staged for the purpose of its own amusement. Seen from such a viewpoint, consequences don't extend any farther than the buttons on a remote control. Therefore, the right thing to do about a situation is whatever makes the viewer feel better, and what would feel best to most people would be to simply turn Elian off.
This "let's put it all behind us" philosophy reduces the people involved in an event to mere characters. Elian, Juan Miguel, Lazaro, Marisleysis, Castro, Clinton, Reno and Donato Dalrymple play their roles in this saga in the same way that Othello, Iago and Desdemona each played a role in a murder.
At the end of a play, however, the actors portraying all the characters, living and dead, appear on stage together and take a bow. Then they get on with their real lives, without a whit of concern for the fates which befell their characters. When the curtain is finally drawn on the Elian Show, the people involved will have to continue being themselves, and living with the decisions which are now being made.
For Elian Gonzalez, this means he will be sent back to Cuba, where he will live the rest of his life under close supervision, in the communist prison-state from which he'd been freed. I guess some would call that "closure."
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