The Magazine

Doris Meissner as Agamemnon

On the moral self-infatuation of Clinton's INS commissioner

Aug 28, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 47 • By ERIC FELTEN
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Self-congratulation, though, is the lodestar of the Clinton administration, and the INS's Doris Meissner its faithful servant. So we should probably not be surprised that, having first decided they had no choice but to grab Elian at gunpoint, they should now celebrate and congratulate themselves for having done the right thing. Never mind that in doing so they ignore the ugliness of the terrible scene they produced. They ignore the grim tableau of masked, machine-gun-toting commandos crashing into the suburban bungalow of American citizens (and seem to think that, as long as the gun didn't go off, it's perfectly okay to point an MP-5 at a six-year-old's chest). And they are apparently untroubled at having stomped and maced a television cameraman to keep him from capturing embarrassing footage of the raid. "Law is law!" the administration proclaims with self-righteous bluster.

Indeed, if the administration thinks it appropriate to celebrate its triumph over Elian's Miami relatives and the sputtering crowds of Little Havana, one has to wonder whether they ever understood themselves to be facing a moral dilemma in the first place. If -- as it appears -- they didn't appreciate that an awful choice had been thrust on them by outrageous fortune, how can they possibly imagine that they have done the right thing? Only because they share in the debased morality of the self-infatuated: They believe whatever they do is right because they do it.

What is the appropriate response from a public that witnesses its government's odious self-congratulation? There is nothing for us to do but, like the Chorus, avert our eyes from the shameful scene and mourn: "Justice turns the balance scales, sees that we suffer, and we suffer and we learn."

Eric Felten is a senior editor at Reader's Digest.