Gored in Miami

The Eli

Published November 25, 2000 2:32AM (EST)

Unfolding like a Greek tragedy, Al Gore's 11th-hour -- or rather, 13th-hour -- bid for the White House is not without a horrible irony for the vice president.

The Gore team this week deplored the Miami mob that shouted, screamed and nearly shoved through the door of a government building -- thus succeeding by intimidation in halting the Miami-Dade County canvassing board's recount of crucial votes. Losing that recount in a county where a majority of the votes were expected to be favorable to Gore may well cost him the presidency.

But guess who was among that crowd drummed up by the Republicans? The same Cuban-Americans whom Gore had tried so hard to woo by pandering to them over the fate of a little Cuban boy who washed up on Florida shores a year ago this week.

Remember back that far? Rather than risk Cuban-American animus or votes -- a largely Republican vote to begin with -- Gore refused to support his own administration's position on the case. He would not say that the United States had the legal and moral authority to return Elián González to his father and, thus, Cuba, arguing instead that a state family court should make the decision.

His statements backfired -- not only did they not attract the anti-Castro Cuban-American community to his banner, they alienated and enraged many members of Gore's hardcore Democratic base of non-Hispanics in bitterly divided South Florida. Some defected to Nader. Others sat out the campaign or voted halfheartedly rather than working to help elect him.

Was Gore haunted by that waffling past this week when -- faster than you could say Elián -- Miami's Cuban-Americans answered the call from the right once more, this time dealing the vice president's candidacy what could be a mortal blow? They answered the call from the Republican Party, from the staunchly Republican Spanish station Radio Mambi, from U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin and Lincoln Diaz Balart -- the one who gave Elián a puppy, remember? They were asked to do what they do best -- protest, shout, raise a ruckus. Perhaps there were some leftover Elián signs they could have dusted off and used in the name of freedom.

Though the counting officials caved, the Democrats didn't abandon their fight. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo went on CNN to say that even though the Republicans can "bring in more thugs ... frighten them into submission the way they did in Miami-Dade," the Democrats would not give up the recount battle. And they have indicated their intention to contest the final vote tally from the county after the statewide election is certified.

This sort of mob rule when it comes to anything related to Cuba is not mystifying to Miamians. They witnessed it well before Elián, when Cuban-American protesters marched, shouted obscenities and threw rocks at concert-goers who were simply trying to attend a performance by musicians visiting from Cuba. They have seen it when a museum exhibiting art from Cuba was threatened by a bomb and one painting was purchased by a Cuban-American for the sole privilege of burning it. They have seen it whenever an attempt has been made to stop the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba.

But to those unfamiliar with the local scene, the situation is hard to understand. "It's unusual to see Republicans out there screaming and shouting," burbled one mystified bloviator on TV.

This is not genteel Republicanism but the knock-down kind, borne of a suspicion and hatred of the Democratic Party since the days of JFK and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Although moderate and even Democratic voices have been heard in the Cuban-American community of late, the majority of the exiles and their families remain, since the days of their cold warrior hero Ronald Reagan, rabidly Republican.

And there are always enough to take to the streets and form an impressive crowd. The television pundit didn't get it. But then neither did Gore. Until it was too late.

By Myra MacPherson

Myra MacPherson, former Washington Post reporter, is the author of five books, including the Vietnam War classic “Long Time Passing” and her recent “The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age.”

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