220 American Government and Politics
Spring, 2000

Kenneth Janda, Instructor

Analyzing Politics in the News

Elian Needs His Dad"
by Steve Largent*

New York Times, 5 April 2000, p. A31.

*Steve Largent, former NFL All-Star receiver, is a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma

Politics is keeping Elian Gonzalez from his father, and it's time that he is returned.
It's already been too long. The tortuous four-month-old custody battle over the boy rescued at sea last November continues to play out in the ts and in Washington. And now, the political brawl has taken an ugly turn. E1ian's relatives in Miami, who have temporary custody of him and are seeking to block his return to Cuba, stooped to criticizing the boy's father, Juan Miguel GonzAlez. Attempting to whip up public sentiment for their cause, the relatives have suggested that the father is somehow unfit to care for his son.
How do they know? Why are they oi~ly now raising this question? And what gives them or the court the right to decide such a thing? Do we really want the government sitting in judgment of every father when there no apparent cause of action? How would the United States react if its role and Cuba's were reversed?
After leveling those charges against Elian's father earlier this week, a lawyer representing the boy's American relatives acknowledged on television that they had no proof.
"We're sure he loves his own son," admitted the lawyer, Linda Osberg
Braun, "and we know Elian loves his father."
Making political hay over a 6-year- old's tragedy of losing a mother may only compound his misery, experts say. Ken Dachman, a child psychologist in Chicago, said he worried that EliAn's Miami relatives "are shaping this child so I don't think he will ever be able to recover fully." Mr. Dachman, who is familiar with the case, warned that the little boy would be "shadowed for a long time by feelings of distrust."
Elizabeth Loftus, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and a leading expert on memory in children, said any child as young as Elian would be particularly susceptible to suggestiQns that could alter his memory of his father.
Sadly, Elian's well-being seems to have little effect on the poisonous political rhetoric coming from Miami and Washington.
Some conservatives see this case as a long-sought opportunity to stick a finger in the eye of Fidel Castro. Let me say unequivocally that I am second to none in my dislike for Mr. Castro's totalitarian regime. But let's be reasonable. EliAn is a little boy who has lost his mother and desperately needs his father.
This is a family issue, first and foremost. To forget that and allow our hatred for the Cuban regime to keep us from doing what is best for the child is shameful. It's already a tragedy that the child lost his mother; it would be a travesty for our government to come between him and his father.
I came to Washington with the deep-seated belief that the family is sovereign. You can't be for family values and at the same time advocate that governments be allowed to come between a father and his child.
What a tragic mistake it would be for society to allow the state or federal government to determine what's best for our children! But that's exactly what's happening in this tug-of-war over Elian Gonzalez.
As a father of four, including three sons, I know how important daddies are to 6-year-old boys. The question then becomes: is it better for Elian to live in our great country without his father or to live with his father in Cuba?
No contest: I say reunite Elian with his daddy--today.
Elian's father and five other Cubans now have their visas for travel to the United States. "I'm willing to leave tomorrow," his father said in a prepared statement. "I do not want to talk to any kidnapper, nor accept any condition, or take part in any show or publicity over the handover of Elian."
So what are we waiting for?