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

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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In the best interest of children -- THE STORY COMES in two versions, each claiming possession of the wrong-headed cliche of the year: "We should do what's in the best interests of the child."

VERSION ONE: Hiding, once more, behind the skirts of Waco Woman, based on reports from psychiatrists who never met their victim, President Clinton, who tearfully salutes civil disobedience of yesteryear, ordered battle-dressed federal agents, pointing automatic weapons, to break into a private residence in the pre-dawn darkness of Holy Saturday, to drag a screaming child out of a closet. A witness says the agents rammed through the gate around the house, broke down the door, yelling, "Give us the (expletive) boy! We'll shoot! We'll shoot! We'll shoot!"

VERSION TWO: Not so, say the Feds. They say their agents politely knocked on the door, twice, and the child was given Play-Doh to amuse himself on the getaway vehicle. Most important, the little fellow is living happily ever after -- see him smiling! -- with his papa at what may be the plushest Air Force base in America, soon headed for a handsome and secluded resort. Moreover, according to people who normally salute diversity, the villains in the drama are "Miami Cubans," nothing but an exile Banana Republic, who deserve what they got. Time, the flagship magazine founded by fiery anti-communist Henry Luce, now reduced to a subsidiary of a subsidiary of AOL, sneers that the Miami Cuban-Americans are "a privileged, imperious elite who set themselves up as a pueblo sufrido,' a suffering people."

In any event, says the president, the law is the law, and it must be enforced promptly. Justice delayed is justice denied.

(For verification of this principle of promptness we can observe the lead headline in the Washington Post on the morning of the raid. It reads, "Clinton and Gore Questioned in Probe," concerning a matter brought to Waco Woman's judicial attention four years ago.)

You may take your choice of these stories (can you guess which side I'm on?), but either way the bottom line is clear: The federal government has acted in a way that will likely reunite father and son, and the son will get his brain reprogrammed by Fidel Castro. That is what the Cuban constitution says: Family rights may be respected "only so long as their influence does not go against the political objectives of the state." Indeed, Castro says the boy will be put in a special school when he returns. There, like other Cuban grammar-school children, he will be given military training and political indoctrination.

May we stipulate that the matter of "what's best for the child" is a close call? It is very good for a child to grow up with a father. It is very good for a child to grow up in a land that honors individual liberty. But suppose we redirect the question from "What is best for the child?" to "What is best for children?" After all, to govern is to choose, and government makes choices every day that affect groups of people rather than individuals. (Just think of all the anonymous lives that would be saved if the speed limit were set at 30 miles an hour.)

"What's best for children?" is not a close call. For three quarters of a century the United States has led a global fight to preserve and extend human liberty so that children would be able to enjoy such blessings. In large measure we have achieved a glorious victory, but the struggle goes on -- from China to Iraq to Sierra Leone to Cuba -- each case treated specially, as it must in a complex world. It is important for our children, and all of G-d's children, that this campaign continue.

Castro's Cuba is the last vestige of unelected totalitarian rule in this hemisphere, not that far from Haiti, where a few years ago Clinton sent American troops to return the government to an elected leader. Fidel Castro took power 41 years ago and has turned his island into a police-state slum.

Latin American experts estimate that Castro would get about a quarter of the vote if he ran for office. He is the illegitimate head of an illegitimate government. Which is why many Miami Cubans indeed regard themselves as "a suffering people." Their country has been hijacked. Castro and his apologists say the problems in Cuba are due to the American trade embargo. But Castro can blow away the embargo the day he announces free and fair elections.

A free Cuba would be a fine place for young Elian, if that's where his father chooses to raise him. He's a nice boy, and he, and Cuba, would flourish in freedom.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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