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Clinton handshake a gesture worth praise


WELL, AS I LIVE AND breathe! Could one President William Jefferson Clinton have, at long last, done something right?

Actually, Clinton has done two things right. The first was when he shook hands this week with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and made himself the first American president to extend the Communist leader the common courtesy granted despots every bit as despicable and dictatorial as El Jefe.

The historic event - which caused much grousing and harumphing among American conservatives - occurred at the United Nations Millennium Summit. Castrophobia - the unreasonable fear and hatred of the Bearded One - we learned is still extant in America. Clinton has gotten over his. It's high time for the nation's remaining Castrophobes to get over theirs.

What's the problem with Fidel, anyway? Oh yeah, he's not too big on that human rights and civil liberties thing. Here's a newsflash every American - Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative - had best heed: Neither are we.

Oh, we preach it. We'll crow from dawn to dawn, 24 hours a day, all year around, and preach to other nations about the freedoms guaranteed us in the Bill of Rights. We're all for them, as long as no one tries to exercise them. They're most admirable in the abstract, somewhat troublesome when applied. That's why, when New York City's Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, instituted a "zero tolerance" police strategy that allowed cops to stop thousands without probable cause, American conservatives responded with a collective and enthusiastic "Rudy, you da man!"

You'd think America's conservatives could appreciate a guy like Castro. He jails, proportionately, just as many young black men as America does. He dismantled black self-help groups soon after taking power, stamped out black nationalist sentiment whenever and wherever it reared its head and refuses to implement black demands for proportional representation in key government positions. When it comes to affirmative action and quotas, commie-boy Castro and America's conservatives are on the same page.

And yet we hate him still. We've never quite forgiven him for kicking organized crime out of Cuba. For years, decent, law-abiding Americans sat in silence as organized thugs turned Cuba into America's gambling den, playground and whorehouse. No longer can rich, degenerate, perverted American men slip into the island and indulge in their craven fantasies with young Cuban girls - or boys, for that matter. Castro put an end to all that, and we've never forgiven him.

Well, not until Clinton, of all people, showed a willingness to let bygones be bygones. The president may have been inspired by his own troubles - he's a guy who should know about the need for and true meaning of forgiveness. Or he may have realized the time is long past due to put Castrophobia behind us and normalize relations with Cuba.

A mere two days ago, there was Clinton again, scolding his own Justice Department for its handling of the Wen Ho Lee case. Lee is the Chinese-American who was accused of and jailed for allegedly passing on some of the nation's nuclear secrets to China. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to one count of "improperly handling nuclear secrets," according to news reports. The other 58 felony charges against him were dismissed. The federal government had held Lee in solitary confinement for nine months without bail.

"The whole thing was quite troubling to me," the president said in published reports. "I don't think you can justify in retrospect keeping a person in jail without bail when you are prepared to make that kind of agreement."

My heavens! Sounds almost like a civil libertarian, doesn't he? He smacks of some chivalrous and gallant knight sallying forth to protect the oppressed and downtrodden. Could this be the same guy who did everything to thwart Paula Jones from having her day in court?

Lee spent nine months in confinement for "a bailable offense," Clinton noted, "and it means he spent a lot of time in prison that any ordinary American wouldn't have and that bothers me."

And well it should. The criteria for bail are several, among them the suspect's job status, his risk of flight, the danger he presents if allowed to run around free and his criminal record. On all those counts, Lee should have been allowed bail. As the president pointed out, he couldn't have been as dangerous as Justice Department officials had claimed if he was allowed to enter into a plea bargain and walk away free.

Now, if we could only get Pinocchio Clinton to express some culpability in the matter of that Jones woman.

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