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The Weirdest Sister

April 25, 2000

Along with Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala, Attorney General Janet Reno is one of the weird sisters of the Clinton administration. If Macbeth had met these three stirring their cauldron on the Scottish heath, he might have run for the highlands.

But of the three, Miss Reno is the one who really gives people the creeps. When Mother Waco starts talking about “protecting” children, the blood runs cold. She looks and sounds like one of nature’s inscrutable freaks, and the results of her solicitude for the kiddies bear out this impression.

In 1993, at Waco, she cited suspicions of “child abuse” as the warrant for an unconstitutional federal siege of the Branch Davidian community. Not only was the siege itself unconstitutional; so is any federal jurisdiction over child abuse. Anyway, no such abuse was ever shown; the siege itself was terrifying to the children within the compound; and most of the kids wound up dead.

[Breaker quote: 
'Protecting' Elian]Now she has struck again, enforcing what she and Clinton choose to call the “rule of law” in Miami by smashing down a household door without so much as a warrant in order to seize little Elián Gonzalez for Fidel Castro. This time she spoke of the “sacred bond between father and child” — a “sacred bond” no Clintonite has ever acknowledged before (and the smart money says it will be a long time before any Clintonite makes use of this expression again). Fidel himself doesn’t use it; one of his underlings has said that Elián is “a possession of the Cuban government,” which accurately describes the relation between any Cuban child and the classic Communist regime which remains undiluted by the post-Stalinist mellowings of other Red states. (During the era of perestroika, Castro was infuriated by Mikhail Gorbachev’s “betrayal” of Communist principles.)

If Clinton and his weirdest sister find anything objectionable in the Cuban system to which they are eager to consign Elián, they haven’t mentioned it. On the contrary, the Elián uproar has witnessed a sort of reunion of the whole Hive of “progressive”-minded souls, liberal, socialist, and Communist, rallying to Fidel as they used to rally to Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel himself. Some of them, as per custom, have even-handedly equated and criticized “both sides,” but always reserving their sharpest barbs for the anti-Communists, chiefly the Miami Cubans. (Nothing annoys a “progressive” like refugees from Communism, who give the lie to the Great Socialist Dream.)

During the Cold War, liberals treated charges of Communist sympathies as “conspiracy theories,” as if they were being accused of taking rubles from the Kremlin. But the chief problem, then as now, was not conspiracy; it was philosophical harmony.

In their piecemeal way, liberals have always pursued the same ultimate goal as socialists and Communists: the remaking of society. Their conception of government is, in the terms used by the conservative Michael Oakeshott and the classical liberal Friedrich Hayek, “teleocratic” (end-governed) rather than “nomocratic” (rule-governed). They see the state not as a neutral umpire, allowing people to pursue their own purposes freely, but as a great architect, imposing its own ends on all of society.

On this view, the population is merely raw material for the state, to be reshaped by the authoritative vision of the “progressive” elite. The “rule of law” under such a system is merely instrumental to the state’s ends, rather than an end in itself. Communist rulers write their own constitutions, endowing themselves with limitless power. For American liberals, the U.S. Constitution becomes a “living and breathing document,” as Vice President Al Gore recently put it — that is, a document whose meaning can be altered by the progressive elite to serve its goals.

The end result of the teleocratic style can be seen in Castro’s shabby utopia, where nobody has toilet paper but everyone fears his neighbor. As good “progressive” teleocrats, uninhibited by a nomocratic conception of governance, Clinton and Reno see nothing wrong with this in principle, so where’s the harm in sending a kid to live the rest of his life there? Like Castro, they regard the law as the instrument of the state, to be bent as needed to effect the siege, the pre-dawn raid, the arbitrary arrest, the property seizure.

Small as he is, maybe Elián is already beginning to get the idea.

Joseph Sobran

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