As shameless as they might be, Miami politicians aren't the only ones who've made ninnies of themselves over Elian Gonzalez.
A couple of national arch-conservatives have ham-handedly used the custody clash to try to advance a hard-line agenda in Congress. Their impact has been nil, but the rhetoric is memorable.
Somewhere in the bowels of hell, Joe McCarthy is grinning from ear to ear.
The first blowhard to insinuate himself into the Elian dispute was Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who is the House majority whip. Soon after Elian's father arrived in Washington, DeLay suggested that he pay a visit to Capitol Hill to meet GOP honchos. Instead, Juan Miguel Gonzalez went straight to see Janet Reno, the one person who could reunite him with his son.
Miffed because Gonzalez didn't stop by to kiss his ring, DeLay said it proved Elian's father was a dupe for Fidel Castro. All it actually proved was that Gonzalez had his priorities straight: He'd come to get his boy, not waste time with grandstanding twits.
After the INS raid in Little Havana, DeLay went on the warpath, promising full-blown congressional hearings into the use of ``jackbooted thugs'' to retrieve Elian.
Since then, the Texan has read the polls and backed off ... a move encouraged by the staff of candidate George W. Bush. They see the Elian issue as dicey everywhere except Miami.
Never fear. The vacuum left by DeLay has been filled bombastically by Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire.
Last July, Smith quit the GOP, saying it had veered too far to the left. He announced he was running for president on the ticket of the ultraconservative U.S. Taxpayers Party.
Public response was underwhelming. Soon Smith abandoned his presidential bid along with his new party and declared himself an ``independent.'' Later he slunk back to the GOP.
Attrition has left Smith the most visible national advocate for Elian's Miami relatives. Last week, he gave a speech saying that he believes the boy is being drugged and ``re-educated'' in preparation for a possible asylum hearing.
It's the sort of stuff you hear all the time from local politicians, but coming from a U.S. senator it sounds especially flaky.
The drugging allegation isn't new. When Elian's pediatrician arrived from Cuba, U.S. Customs agents inspecting her medical kit found antibiotics, an asthma treatment and a sedative ... common medicines many traveling doctors might carry for emergencies.
And if this was, as Smith asserts, evidence of a covert scheme to drug the boy, it seems mighty strange that Cuban state television was the first to report the incident. Some secret plot.
But the senator from New Hampshire never lets logic interfere with a Red-bashing rant. He went on to describe the wooded Maryland compound where Elian and his father are staying as a ``concentration camp on American soil.''
Said Smith: ``It's surrounded by communists. He's got his communist playmates there so they can re-indoctrinate him.''
That was an ominous reference to some of Elian's pals, who had been brought from Cuba to visit him . . . a cadre of diabolical, 6-year-old brainwashers, Smith would have us believe.
Perhaps it's the senator, not Elian, who should be taking a urine test. Clearly Smith cannot deal with the possibility that the boy could be happy in the arms of his own father, a dirty rotten commie.
Doesn't everybody know that communists don't really love their children? All those millions of Cuban, Chinese, North Korean and Vietnamese mothers and fathers ... don't try to tell Bob Smith that they cuddle with their kids or sing them lullabyes or sit up all night with them when they're sick.
And if they do, you can bet it's not done out of devotion. It's only to make sure the little ones grow up to be loyal comrades in arms.
But young Elian, Smith suggests, already has seen the light. He knows better.
That's why they doped him up and flew in the pint-sized deprogrammers ... how else to explain why he's smiling and laughing in those photographs taken with his father?
It can't possibly be love, so it's got to be drugs.
Thanks for your fascinating theory, Sen. Smith. And thanks also for reminding us that Miami hasn't cornered the market on whacko politicians.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Boston Globe.
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