In the classic 1956 novel about big-city politics, "The Last Hurrah," a character based on Boston Mayor James Curley is asked to state his foreign policy. His simple reply panders solely to Irish and Italian immigrants: Northern Ireland belongs to Ireland, and Trieste (a city once held by Yugoslavia) belongs to Italy.
Political leaders who allow government policy to be dictated by the voting power of citizen-immigrants are nothing new. Ethnic bonding with the old country has often trumped America's national interest. It's likely, for instance, that the White House selection of new members for NATO in the mid-'90s - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic - was done to please immigrants from those countries.
But now, in the case of the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, even the leading candidates for US president are pandering to Cuban-Americans who would bar the law officers of the US attorney general from reuniting the boy with his surviving parent. Others in that powerful Florida community threaten a riot if Elian is allowed to return to Cuba to be with his father.
Are Al Gore and George W. Bush so desperate for Florida's electoral votes that they won't denounce these threats or support a federal court ruling and the Clinton administration's stance? Do their ambitions outweigh their belief in family values and rule of law?
The courts clearly say the attorney general is right: A six-year-old foreign child who was found on the high seas belongs with his loving father - despite the dismal conditions in his country and his late mother's intentions that he live in the US. All else is politics - or law-breaking.
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro must love watching Americans nearly come to blows on this issue. As a Leninist, he's trained to exploit and agitate contradictions in an enemy's camp.
And right now, the US faces a big contradiction: It peacefully seeks the rule of law and democracy in Cuba while its own laws and democracy are being corrupted, perhaps violently, by a small but intimidating community of cold-war exiles in Florida, many of whom want to return to a free Cuba.
All politics is not local when it comes to national principles.
If Elian must be dragged out of a Miami house by law officers before a raging mob, it will be a victory for Castro, a trauma for Elian, and a tragedy for America. We hope his American relatives hand him over soon.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society