THE SUBJECT OF Elian Gonzalez has been worked and spun and written to
death. To write any more about it would do little more than classify
the writer among all those who have exploited this kid to their own
purposes. And believe me, qualifying for the same list as Indiana
Congressman Dan ``Let's subpoena the lad!'' Burton is about as smarmy
as you can feel without committing a sex crime.
Nevertheless, Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said what he said, and it
truly deserves some comment. Mack wants to make young Elian a U.S.
citizen, to enable him to evade what Mack repudiates as ``archaic,
confusing and hard-to-understand immigration law.'' Ideally, Mack
said, ``you go away from being focused on the law, to being focused
on what's best for the boy.''
There's something about the sound of a U.S. senator disdaining,
and maneuvering to thwart, a body of law that ought to make the hair
on your neck rise. Here's a guy who helps make the laws, and look how
seriously he takes them. What a commercial for the American way.
Welcome, Elian, to a world where the rules are just window dressing.
The funny thing is, Sen. Mack formerly took the sanctity of the
law quite seriously. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if
I had a dollar for everyone who heard the good senator opine during
the impeachment proceedings that no one, not even a president, is
above the law, I could refurnish my house. So much for that.
Obviously, there is hypocrisy afoot here. But hypocrisy is
virtually a universal condition. What's more worrisome is that
expediency and political necessity are afoot here. A significant
segment of Mack's constituency seemingly exists only to hate, curse,
and bedevil Fidel Castro. Their votes are awarded exclusively to
politicians who openly embrace those priorities. Mack can do the
And once again we see why the single-issue zealot is the most
dangerous creature on the American political landscape. Because the
zealot would have you and I and Congress and the nation wipe its nose
with any law that got in the way of the zealot's specific agenda.
It doesn't really matter what the issue is -- Cuba, the
environment, guns, homosexuality, the Confederate flag: the point is
that the cause trumps the law, whether it's immigration law (Cuba),
search and seizure law (drugs), civil rights law (gays) or personal
privacy law (abortion). And woe betide any candidate who disagrees.
But hey, it gets worse.
Because not only does zealotry reject the rule of law, it subverts
the democratic electoral process with litmus-test politics. It
selects leaders based not on capability or qualifications, but on
sloganeering. Instead of skill or statesmanship, it rewards call-
and-response. A parrot could deliver the stump speech.
Single-issue zealotry demands, in Mack's perceptive words, leaders
who ``go away from being focused on the law to
being focused on what's best for the boy.'' Or for family values. Or
the movement. Or the church. Or the race.
Alas, when you go away from being focused on the law, you go away from
what separates the United States from oligarchies, dictatorships,
police states and other law-indifferent systems. This is especially
ominous when you're a career legislator. You are on some very thin
ice, Sen. Mack, and unfortunately we're all on it with you, and we'll
thank you to not go around stamping your feet with zealous
righteousness for political effect.
If the law is so inconvenient and irritating to you and your
obsessive constituency, please, don't ``go away from being focused''
on it. Just go away.
As for young Elian, it's hard to believe that what's best for him,
or for anyone, is to grow up in a country where people like Connie
Mack and Dan Burton are empowered to write the laws. But that seems
to be the best offer we can come up with. Sorry, kid.
El Cerrito free-lance writer Bob Wieder issues an open invitation to Elian Gonzalez to crash at his place.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle