- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno has decided that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is a good father to little Elian because during their private conversation Seor Gonzalez knew Elian's shoe size and teacher's name, according to a network television news report Monday. Now, as a father of three, I don't find it particularly remarkable that a boy's father would know these details. And, of course, if Seor Gonzalez didn't know the answers originally, he had six months in Cuba, prior to his carefully planned interview with Janet Reno, to sneak into the boy's Cuban closet to check the shoe size.

No, what puzzles me is how Miss Reno knew the correct answers. Does the FBI keep a file on the shoe sizes of all little Cuban boys and girls? And if so, how often do they update their files? The wee ones' feet do grow so fast, don't you know. Or did Miss Reno arrange to have a CIA agent parachute into Havana to check little Elian's closet and school records?

Or, much more likely, is this whole preposterous anecdote just one more Clinton administration gulling of the American public? Did Mr. Clinton's former impeachment defense lawyer, Gregory Craig, Esq., who is now Fidel Castro's designated counsel for Seor Gonzalez, tell the attorney general this touching tale of paternal devotion? We do know that the attorney general, in her befuddled sincerity, went on to share this little contrivance with her adoring Justice Department press corp. From there it has gone directly into the soft hearts and minds of the American public.

Without doubt, the Gore camp is monitoring closely whether the public is buying into the Elian shoe-size gambit. Even now, I suspect, Al is sitting up nights memorizing all of his children's shoe sizes and teachers' names going back 20 years. Tipper may be giving him spot quizzes: "Quick, Al, what was little Skipper's shoe size when he was in Mrs. Peelmeyer's pre-kindergarten class at St. Paul's?"

If focus grouping shows that likely voters are moved by Seor Gonzalez's shoe-size knowledge, we can expect a Gore press conference in which he not only announces that since Seor Gonzalez knew Elian's shoe size it's OK to send Elian back to his Cuban re-education camp, but that he, Mr. Gore also knows all of his kids' shoe sizes. Of course the danger of such an event is that some smart-aleck reporter (if there are any left) might ask the vice president what his son's inseam and waist sizes were in the third grade. A boy has got to wear jeans as well as shoes, after all. But the vice president just may have to take that chance.

He needs a positive Elian event because his last Elian venture has gone wildly out of control. After his conspicuously cynical endorsement of the Miami Cuban position, which was even condemned by his fellow Democrats, he has fallen from a statistical tie with Gov. George W. Bush to a nine-point deficit, according to the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Distressingly, from the Gore point of view, the poll disclosed that not only did he lose 9 percent of his support amongst those who disagreed with his position on keeping Elian in America, but he lost 5 percent from the people who agreed with him. When a candidate starts losing ground with people who agree with him on the issues, it is deeply suggestive of a personality problem perhaps even a veracity deficit.

When I worked at the Reagan White House, the most repeated phrase that the public told our pollsters was: "I may not always agree with Reagan, but at least I know where he stands." But in last week's Washington Post ABC News poll report, a full 50 percent of respondents said Mr. Gore comes across "insincere and somewhat phony." In that same report, a Gore strategist was quoted saying: "[The] successful devices of taking off Gore's dark suits… donning cowboy boots and casual garb [help people assess Gore's character]." I can't argue with that. According to The Washington Post Poll, it has already helped 50 percent of the public.

Warming up to the interview, the unnamed, hapless strategist went on to point out that: "Any race for president is about issues and character; nobody's going to elect a president of the United States without making an assessment of both. But issues can be a window through which people make conclusions about character." Again, I have to agree with the wizard strategist. However, after Al Gore's Elian issues gambits, he may want to close the blinds on that window.

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