29 APRIL 2000, Page 17


The Elian business shows how out of touch — and out of their minds —

Republicans are, says Mark Steyn ACCORDING to the Wall Street Journal, Congress needs to investigate what drugs were administered to Elian 'while in US government custody'.

According to Florida Republican con- gressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Elian is being 'brainwashed' by the federal govern- ment. 'I saw a little Band-Aid,' he said, referring to the pictures of the boy looking `happy' with his father. 'I think the drug- ging has already begun.' According to Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin once removed, Elian has now been even further removed. `That is not Elian. Look how short the hair looks When he was taken out of the house and look how long the hair is in the picture that they show today.' According to Kendall Coffey, one of great-uncle Lazaro's many attorneys and a former federal prosecutor until the biting incident with the nude dancer, Elian seems to have a good bit more hair. And unless they were developing some hair Product on the flight up to the north, then our community is very, very suspicious.' According to Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, this whole Elian business goes back to that moment in the Starr report when the President tells Mon- ica he thinks their phone sex is being mon- itored by a foreign intelligence service. Maybe it was Mr Castro's intelligence ser- vice,' she says, 'or that of a Castro friend.' Mr Clinton is handing over Elian because he's being blackmailed by Havana. Well, I'd like to think so, though frankly it's hard to see what there might be in the President's phone-sex sessions that could Possibly embarrass a man who's already been vividly described in a government report hunched over a sink ejaculating after using a junior employee as an ad hoc humidor.

Incidentally, what's the difference between Elian and Monica? With Elian, they went in to snatch the Cuban; with Monica, the Cuban went into. . . oh, never mind. The point is, as I understand it, that Castro has the phone-sex tapes, so back in November, when Elian washes up in Flori- da, he says to Clinton, `Gimme the boy back or I'll make you look a laughing stock in the eyes of the world and your image as a respected, mature, dignified statesman will be irreparably damaged.' And Clinton says, `Okay, you win. But we've got to do this carefully. There's a space midget we've been keeping at Area 51 in Roswell, New Mexico, who's about the same size as the kid. We could use him as a decoy, but he's going to need extensive plastic surgery. He won't be ready till mid-April earliest.' 'Good enough,' says Castro. 'But make sure you get a decent surgeon. I want the guy who did Bob Dole's facelift, not some idiot with a couple of discarded Jacko nose jobs in the back of his filing cabinet.' 'Deal,' says Clinton. `And the beauty of this scheme is, even if Janet Reno winds up killing the kid, we'll have another on standby. But will Juan Miguel go along with it?' Juan Miguel is a secret police- man,' says Castro. 'Elian's real father was kidnapped in Angola in the late Seventies.'

Look, I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, so how about this? Fidel's planted a radio transmitter in Elian's head and it emits this signal that drives any con- servative who comes within range com- pletely nuts. Everywhere in America outside the Greater Miami area, the reac- tion to Janet Reno's dawn raid was not `Oh, my God, how could she do that?' but 'What took her so long?' Everyone was sick of Elian's 'Miami family': the pert young Marisleysis may have the cutest butt on network TV but most of us dearly wish some FBI sharpshooter would fire a tran- quiliser dart into it. After the moppet had been sprung from their care, the hysterical Marisleysis and great-uncle Lazaro, accom- panied by several lawyers and Donato the 'I hope that isn't peifonnance-related!' friendly fisherman (who'd been in the clos- et with Elian at the time he was seized), flew to Washington, took a taxi to Andrews air force base and demanded to be let in to give Elian his Easter eggs. Like any num- ber of futile pickets across the continent, they could have languished outside the gate for ever. But for some reason the Republi- can leadership decided to jump on their upturned bandwagon.

Polls show Americans support the Feds taking the child: they believe overwhehning- ly that he belongs with his father; and they have a pronounced antipathy towards the Miami relatives. But ever since the impeachment trial ended, Republicans have been desperate to find another lost cause, and now they've got it. Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, Senate majority leader Trent Lott, house majority whip Tom DeLay, Senate judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch, and every other GOP bigshot in Washington still suffering Monica with- drawal symptoms are all busting to hold long drawn-out Congressional hearings on Elian in the hope of driving down their poll numbers to the same single-figure barely measurable rating they enjoyed in Ken Starr's heyday. In an ABC poll, 65 per cent of Americans said they were opposed to Congressional hearings, but no doubt after a week or two of Henry Hyde gavelling pro- ceedings the GOP could get that figure up to 80 or 85 per cent.

Best of all, taking up the cause of a law- less Hispanic mob as it trashes Miami seems expressly designed to offend the party's core voters. Normally, the sight of a man who can't speak English attacking the govern- ment on TV would prompt Republicans to call for tougher language requirements for US immigration. But great-uncle Lazaro's hot-blooded Spanish rants have the same effect on Congressional Republicans that Julio Iglesias has on middle-aged house- wives. Normally, the sight of excitable types jumping up and down in the street torching effigies of American politicians has Repub- licans wondering why no one in Baghdad/ Tehran/Port-au-Prince seems to have a day job. But bring Miami to a halt burning Janet Reno's head on a stick and they're behind you all the way. With Monica, Republicans who disapproved of sexual harassment legislation and thought the independent- counsel law unconstitutional found them- selves defending an independent counsel investigation arising from a sexual harass- ment suit. But that was as nothing com- pared to the contortions required of them by Elian. Family values? Well, some fami- lies are more valuable than others. The cor- rosive spread of bilingualism? Hey, if you're anti-Castro, you're speaking my language.

Polls should not, of course, dissuade politicians from taking an unpopular posi- tion if they believe it's right. Unfortunate- ly, most Americans don't see this as a political issue at all, only a personal one (something else Elian shares with Moni- ca). And the surest sign that Republicans are on a hiding to nothing with this one was the presence alongside the lovely Marisleysis of the quintessential GOP loser, New Hampshire senator Bob Smith, who's sponsoring the Cuban-Americans' trip to Washington.

You may recall my paean of praise to Bob last year, part of my vain efforts to swing Conrad Black's global empire behind the Smith For President campaign. In the early days of the New Hampshire primary season, Dubya and John McCain were con- cerned that Senator Smith would have an unassailable home-state advantage. But he started at 1 per cent in the state polls and that's more or less where he stayed. I agree with him on just about any issue you care to name, but the trouble is he doesn't seem very presidential: he's a big burly dough- faced fellow who looks like Louise Wood- ward with a bad comb-over. If ever there's a guy who could use the magical hair-growing potion Elian was doused in en route from Miami to Washington, it's Senator Smith. My assistant Melissa, with her high-level contacts in the New Hampshire Republican party, tipped me off that his campaign had invested in a new toupee and that it looked very presidential. It was publicly unveiled on NBC's Meet The Press and, although the rug did indeed look presidential, it some- how made everything underneath it look even less presidential.

Resentful at the way no one took his campaign seriously, Bob had a turn: he tossed his hairpiece into the trash and with it his Republican party membership. He became the highest-ranking GOP defector in half a century and bade farewell with a histrionic Senate speech in which he recited all the Republican party policy planks that they hadn't bothered doing a thing about since they took control of Congress. Bob figured he had a better chance of becoming president on a third-party ticket. Unfortu- nately, none of the third parties had any interest in him, and in Congress it gets kind of lonely being a senator without a party. So late last year he cut a deal with the Republi- An Englishman's home is his prison. cans to come home in return for being allowed to retain his seniority on various Senate committees. But his political career is over, and there was something almost touchingly naive in Marisleysis's belief that she'd secured the support of a Washington heavyweight.

'This boy needs to see me,' Marisleysis declared. Senator Smith agreed. He also had an Easter egg for Elian, a pink one which, with tears in his eyes, he showed to the press at a news conference on Capitol Hill. But when he'd gone along to Andrews air-force base to give it to the li'l feller, he too had been turned away. Bob, who serves on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, complained loudly about being denied access by armed guards. 'That's the way this family and this United States senator were treated by an air base basically under my control.' I'm not sure whether US air bases are, technically, under Bob Smith's control, but, if they are, I'd advise the GOP to keep quiet about it.

'This is no longer about Castro,' declared the senator. 'It is now about Pres- ident Clinton and Janet Reno's abuse of power.' Bob, Bob. . . . You've been there and done that, and where did it get you? He concluded by quoting his favourite Carpenters song:

Bless the beasts and children For they have no voice They have no choice. . . .

The children — like little Elian — may have no voice. But the beasts — the Smiths and Lotts and Hatches — most certainly have a choice. And as usual they've made a dumb one. The Republicans are right about Cuba. Where they're wrong is in thinking they can liberate an enslaved people one child at a time. That's anti-Communism for nancy-boys: the last course of the Cold War served up under some ghastly Clintonian 'it's for the children' treacly goo.

It's possible to have two views on this issue. To Senator Smith, Elian's mom gave her life so that her child could live in free- dom. To many others, she drowned when her overloaded boat capsized. It was an accident. It's like if I flip my rig over on Route 302 in Vermont, but my kid gets thrown clear and on to the grass verge out- side P&H Truck Stop in Wells River, it doesn't necessarily mean I gave my life so that he could eat the meatloaf special. And, given that the American people are over- whelmingly opposed to making Elian a political symbol, it's hard to see what Republicans hope to accomplish by signing on with that crazy Miami crowd. Besides, if the issue is Castro and communism, the GOP hasn't had a single original thought on that subject in decades. Meanwhile, all the biggest GOP turn-offs — Lott, DeLay, Smith — are back on TV in election year. As usual, Janet Reno is taking an insou- ciant attitude to Congressional investiga- tion: she says she's going whitewater rafting. Maybe she should get the kid a new inner tube and take him along.