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Elian Gonzalez and American Values

by Steven H. Zinser

The Elian Gonzalez incident gives serious insight into the American mindset. What makes it so, is that there was a choice between two highly cherished values. The Elian Gonzalez issue requires us to choose between family and freedom.

Family has been promoted by conservative Christianity in the modern media as an ultimate value. We find groups such as Dobson's "Focus on the Family" and Shlafly's "Eagle Forum" advocating the inviolability of the family. The father of Elian Gonzalez, despite what anyone says, IS just that. He is the father. All of us know that we would endure great suffering and pain to be reunited with any of our children. And that is how this case has been presented by the major media and by the liberals: as their support for the inviolability of the family. I'm saddened that they were able to claim this ground.

But "freedom" is no less a value. Conservatives who stood in favor of Elian remaining in the U.S. stood staunchly against returning the boy to what is in actuality a totalitarian regime. Castro's Cuba is no Marxist paradise. It is a place where the Leninist/Stalinist beliefs in total subjection to the state are enforced. Castro's Cuba wants to control every thought. They control the clothes that are worn, the food that is eaten, the ideas that are heard, and they truly want to control the thoughts that get thought. That was the hope of Stalinist communism and that is still the intent in Castro's impoverished "paradise."

When one brings two ultimate values into conflict, it is difficult to paint one as "right" and the other as "wrong." It is difficult for the liberal Clintonistas to demonize those who stand for Elian's right to live in freedom. They realize that the young boy's mother sacrificed her life so the boy could escape from despotism. They realize that they stand on the wrong side of the lessons of the Civil War, the lessons of the Underground Railroad, when they shout: "The boy must go back to the slave owners, no matter the issue of freedom." The Reno's and Wolf Fassets stand on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, the wrong side of the Bamboo Curtain, and the wrong side of any bit of history where the yearning of the human spirit for freedom has led people to give up their lives so their loved ones can be free. They, in fact, stand on the wrong side of the American Revolution. "Give me liberty or give me death!" Elian's mother would find a friend in Patrick Henry.

But, it is likewise difficult to demonize those who have placed family above freedom in their hierarchy of values. Who wants to stand for the right of a state to determine whether a parent does or does not have rights over his own children? That, too, is an issue of totalitarian control. That, too, is a brink. If the Justice Department can decide against parental rights in this case, is it unwise to ask if that same government would use that decision in the future as a precedent for deciding what happens to my children? I am glad, at least, that the socialists in this incident were forced by political necessity to make statements about the rights of parents with their children. They are on record saying that the prerogatives of a parent are an ultimate value that requires extraordinary circumstances for any governmental body to violate.

Where is the victory in this mess? Two things come to mind. First, conservative Christians should highlight the fact that parental rights and, particularly, paternal rights, have been affirmed by the government. Second, conservative Christians should point out that it is again the Democratic Party that has stood for returning the slaves to their owners. That was the case in pre-Civil War America, and it is again the case with Elian Gonzalez. Too often, we forget to mention that Abraham Lincoln was a REPUBLICAN. We forget that it was the Democratic Party that supported slavery during the Civil War. It was the Democratic Party that maintained the subordination of blacks in the South during the Reconstruction. It was the Democratic Party that reinstituted slavery with the economic serfdom that derived from the Great Society programs of the 1960's: slavery to welfare, minimum subsistence allowances, and housing projects. In so doing, they indicated where their heart always had been. Their position on Elian Gonzalez reiterates an underlying current that lurks beneath the surface of the Democratic Party. In order to get along they will send the runaway slave back to the masters. The troubling question is this: do they believe in parental rights or do they believe in the right of "elites" to determine the lives of ordinary citizens? In Civil War times, the northern Democrats were hand-in-hand with their brethren in the south who owned the plantations.

Conservatives have indicated they believe freedom is a greater value than family rights. "We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." With liberty one has family. With family one does not necessarily have liberty. Speak to Elian Gonzalez' mother on that score. She testifies from the grave.

Rev. Steven H. Zinser, Endorsed Chaplain

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