Cashing in on Little Elian: The Tear Gas Is Gone, but Politicians and Profiteers Have Just Begun to Exploit the Drama of the Raft Boy
There was the planning team, the intelligence team, the surveillance team, the break-down-the-door team, the snatch team, the perimeter-security team, the neutralize-the-neighbors team, the air wing and the Navy (a fast boat, in case the helicopter couldn't take off). All in all, the Feds prepared to pick up 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez the way armies prepare for war. Judging from the vituperative postraid response of GOP lawmakers last week, the onslaught by more than 100 Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, several armed with automatic weapons, added up to overkill. House Whip Tom DeLay excoriated "jack-booted thugs," while New York mayor and Senate candidate Rudy Giuliani inveighed against "storm troopers."
Yet when the pollsters weighed in, the public turned out to take a different view. Most approved of the raid to return Elian to his father, and many people made clear that they were tired of the whole melodrama. On Capitol Hill, Republicans scheduled, then postponed, congressional hearings. That did not necessarily mean, however, that the exploitation of Elian was winding down. The Feds' seizure of the boy was roiling politics from Miami to Washington, and the Internet auction service, eBay, was auctioning off Elian curios. "100 Percent Genuine Raft Used by Elian!!!" declared a seller who claimed to have bought the boy's inner tube from a government warehouse. Also for sale: a page of a coloring book titled "Lunch for a Squirrel," purportedly colored by Elian, and a jar of air supposedly containing smells from Elian's neighborhood (cigar smoke, tear gas).
The raid's critics were quick to use the famous photo of Elian cowering in the closet. Grover Norquist, who runs an anti-Big Government organization called Americans for Tax Reform, e-mailed it to 1,000 conservative activists with the caption, "Your tax dollars at work." Still, many Americans were put off by the over-the-top public-relations campaign of Elian's Miami relatives and their entourage. …