Elian and Family Values
Jude Wanniski
April 24, 2000


To: Bob Novak
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Mommy & Daddy

I've been wondering what went though your mind when you saw that picture of a smiling Elian in the arms of his dad. Was there a sudden twinge that maybe it would be best after all for the kid to be with his father in Cuba than with a distant uncle in Florida? It has been harder for me to figure you out on this, Bob, than on any other topic that has arisen between us over the past 25 years. Yes, you have been as hard as nails when it comes to anything that might put a smile into Fidel Castro's beard. And that I can understand, especially when you readily acknowledge that your loathing of him borders on the irrational. What I could not understand -- until this weekend -- was how you could so easily dismiss the boy's relationship with his father, as if the power of the state to claim him as our property would be better for the boy than reunion with his father, to whom he belongs until he comes of age. The exception, of course, is if the community decides the father is unfit as a parent, and it is abundantly clear the father is a good man and now, that Elian is happy in his embrace.

This whole experience reaches into the broader question of "family values" that conservatives and Republicans view as their political province. It finally dawned on me that your view of family values is from a "Daddy" perspective, which is quite different than how "Mommy" views them. Liberal Democrats are no less attentive to family values than conservative Republicans, but they represent the "Mommy" side of the political debate.

Daddy is not only the breadwinner in the basic political unit, which is the family, but also the defender of the family against external threats. Remember I began writing about the GOP as the Daddy Party in 1994. Newt Gingrich led the warriors back to power in the House of Representatives after 40 years away at war. He stamped his foot and announced that Mommy had made a mess of things, that the kids were all misbehaving, they had not learned their lessons, and the budget was wildly out of balance. Family values meant yelling at everyone to shape up pronto. No more abortions. Prayer back in the schools. Cut spending, including school lunches and Medicare. Shape up, Mommy.

You see what I mean, Bob. The arguments on behalf of strengthening "family values" from the male point of view have little to do with love and most to do with discipline. This helps explain the contradictions between the parties on a host of issues. Conservatives are anti-abortion because women who get pregnant by making that choice should not be able to solve the pregnancy problem by snuffing out the life they chose to create. It is a matter of discipline. Yet conservatives whose daughters get pregnant -- and the issue is brought right into their families -- will often accept the abortion as the most rational way out. Liberals who are so quick to defend any and all abortions are the first to oppose the death penalty for criminals who have been convicted by the community for having taken lives. Liberals, the Mommies of the political system, are quick to forgive because they are "compassionate," but how can standards of behavior be maintained if there is never penance for sin or punishment for crime.

Last month, I wrote you about "A Role for Elian" in this space, suggesting that something good may come out of this conflict. Not only may there be a reunion of Elian and his father, but the process may lead to reconciliation between the "Daddy" Cubans in Florida and the "Mommy" Cubans in Cuba. In that memo, remember, I pointed out that the most ardent supporters of Elian's return to his father have been black Americans, especially black female Americans like Rep. Maxine Waters [D-CA]. At the time I suggested maybe it was because Castro, for all his faults, had ended racial discrimination in Cuba of the kind practiced in the regime he overthrew in 1959. Maybe that had a little bit to do with it, but now I see that conservative black intellectuals like Tom Sowell have been hammering away against his return, on the grounds that he should not be brought up in Castro's Cuba, because he will be brainwashed and grow up to be a Communist. The paradigm that puts the external threat of Cuba above the paradigm of hearth and home in the Gonzalez family is the dominant force with you.

On "Crossfire" last month, you thought you had pinned Maxine Waters to the wall when you suggested she would have a different opinion if, instead of this being Elian, it was a young boy from Iraq, as if she were making her decision on Castro's leftism as opposed to Saddam's fascism. I remember how horrified she looked at the barb and said she would have exactly the same view... wherever the boy came from. And I believe her, because she knows better than almost anyone the problems created in black families where there is no dad. An entire generation of black Americans are in one prison or another, and in most cases it is because there was no dad in their home when they were born.

Ask yourself, Bob. Why were there no dads in their homes? Was it because of liberals or because of conservatives? Ah yes, the liberals would have been happy sending welfare checks to the families while the man of the house was unemployed. But conservatives insisted on discipline. If the man of the house was able-bodied, he should go to work, even if there were no jobs that could support his family. In retrospect, it was a terrible thing to do, and yet conservatives still blame liberal Democrats for all those dreadful policy errors when it was the price they demanded that broke those black families in two.

I don't mean to be an itch, old buddy, but this is the best I can do by way of explaining the gap between your position and mine on this little boy. There is probably a little more "Mommy" in me than there is in you. If Elian's mommy was brought back to life just for a minute, to be asked if Elian should be with his dad in Cuba or with his great uncle in Miami, can you imagine her saying with the uncle? Maybe before you saw the boy together with his dad... but not now. Case closed, Roberto.