If 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez were going to school these days, his first question would be, “Teacher, what’s a hypocrite?”
“Well, Elian,” the teacher says, “let’s begin with your Miami relatives. They are demanding to see you. They say you need them, you love them and it is their right, as family, to decide what is best for you.
“They are hypocrites, because when your father said the same thing, they completely ignored him.
“Your great-uncle Lazaro? He used the law to keep you. But when the law didn’t go his way, he chose to ignore it. That makes him a hypocrite, Elian. With a capital H.
“Your cousin Marisleysis? She’s a hypocrite, too. Although she is only 21 and has no children of her own, she blasted Janet Reno’s decision to come get you, saying, ‘Janet Reno does not know what it’s like to be a mother.’ Clinging to someone else’s child doesn’t make you a mother, Elian. And it’s hypocritical to think it does.
“The Cuban Americans who rallied around your house? They are hypocrites, too, Elian. They came to this country to escape dictatorship and propaganda. Yet with you, they wanted to make up their own law — like a dictator — and spin lies about your father, claiming he was unfit or a puppet — which is propaganda.”
“Gee,” Elian says, “does that mean hypocrites live in Miami?”
“No,” the teacher says. “They can be anywhere . . .”
The elected hypocrites
“For example, they can be in Washington, where congressmen and senators work. Many Republicans are the staunchest conservatives when it comes to weapons, force and the law. But because a Democratic administration gave the order to go in and get you, they are now complaining that the government is a bully.”
“So a hypocrite is a Republican?” Elian asks.
“Not necessarily. Many Democrats — who would be screaming about civil rights had this been a Republican administration — are instead celebrating your case as an example of parental rights. That’s hypocritical, too.”
“So a hypocrite is an elected person who lives in Washington?” Elian says.
“Not necessarily,” the teacher says. “For example, there’s the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. He said it was wrong to send ‘storm troopers’ in to get you. But in his city, he endorses police who shoot first and ask questions later. It just so happens that he’s running for the Senate against Hillary Clinton, whose husband OK’d the order to go get you. So suddenly, he’s critical of force. That makes Mr. Giuliani as big a hypocrite as there is.”
“Hmm,” Elian says. “So a hypocrite is always a man?”
“Oh, no,” the teacher says, “Hillary is a hypocrite, too. If some other president had given the order — especially a Republican one — she would be screaming about safety and families. She would be telling everyone how it takes a village to raise a child. But because she is the first lady, the village is supposed to step aside, while marshals knock down the door.”
“Wow,” Elian says. “So a hypocrite is either someone in my family, or someone who is elected?”
“Not quite,” the teacher says, “there’s more . . .”
The self-made hypocrites
“Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator, is a terrible hypocrite. He is a sworn enemy of America who denies his people freedom. Yet he’s now using the U.S. action to support his agenda, and he willingly sends over your friends and cousins when it suits his purposes.
“The protesters marching on Washington — like Mothers Against Repression — are hypocrites, because they support your relatives’ rights but completely ignore your father’s.
“And the media — all those reporters around you — they are hypocrites every day. They know you are only one boy, one case, one story — and there are many more just as tragic as yours — but they keep showing the same photos and the same footage, because your story sells and the others don’t.
“So, Elian,” the teacher finally says, “do you know what a hypocrite is?”
“Lee me see,” he says. “Can I go home to Cuba now?”
“Not yet,” the teacher says.
“But isn’t this the land of the free?”
“That,” he says, “is hypocritical.”
“And you,” the teacher says, “are learning fast.”
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.