U.S. Wouldn’t Tolerate Our Election in Nicaragua

Published on December 16, 2000 in the Madison Capital Times

Imagine the following hypothetical scenario: It is the Nicaraguan presidential election of 1990. On one side are the incumbent Sandinistas, on the other side their opposition, which is supported materially by the United States.

The Sandinistas lose the popular vote by 4,000 votes, but, due to an arcane electoral system, they win the election by a total of 41 votes in one of the provinces. This in a nation of three million. But there are numerous irregularities, as faulty equipment and ballots and questionable practices mean that thousands of votes—disproportionately from the stridently anti-Sandinista districts—are not included in the tally. The governor of the province where many irregularities occur is Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega’s brother. The official specifically in charge of seeing that it is a fair vote is the campaign manager for the Ortega’s campaign in her province, and a die-hard party activist.

Immediately after the election, the Sandinistas demand that the opposition concede for the good of the nation. The media chime in, noting that the people are “tired” of the election “dragging out,” and want it resolved immediately. The Sandinistas resist any and all efforts to count the missing votes—even sending in a goon squad to break up one effort at doing a hand recount—except for their insistence that irregularities in the counting of the absentee ballots of Sandinista soldiers and diehard Sandinista party supporters be ignored. Otherwise, the vote should remain exactly as it is. They point out that the Nicaraguan constitution has a firm deadline for resolving elections. After stalling for a month the deadline rapidly approaches. A regional court rules that the uncounted votes must be included in the election results.

At this point, the matter finally ends up in the Nicaraguan Supreme Court where seven of the nine judges were appointed by the Sandinistas. Three of the justices are closely linked to the most militant wing of the Sandinista movement, and have spouses or children gainfully employed by those connected to the extreme wing of the Sandinista movement. In a 5-4 vote, the opposition’s efforts to have the uncounted votes included is rejected, although two Sandinista appointed judges dissent, noting that this was nothing short of a refutation of political democracy.

The Sandinistas assume power for another six year term. The news media harp on the need for the nation to put aside partisan bickering and unite behind Ortega. “The system works,” is a common refrain.

Imagine, again, what the response to this would have been by U.S. politicians and the U.S. news media to all of this. As one who lived through this era I can state without qualification it would have been as follows: The news media and all politicians would have deplored the Sandinista coup d’état in the strongest language imaginable. Then Secretary of State James Baker and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney would have pounded their fists on the table and howled their indignation at this assault of core democratic values. Any effort to defend the Sandinistas on technical legal grounds would have been dismissed as an outrageous apologia for tyranny. “The bottom line is whoever gets the most votes should win,” Chris Matthews, Jeff Greenfield, Brian Williams, Tim Russert and Bill O’Reilly would have bellowed, “and the Sandinistas couldn’t win a fair election so they rigged it.” The U.S. military would have invaded Nicaragua and installed the opposition party in power.

The most vociferous champions of invading Nicaragua in the name of free and fair elections would have been exactly those right-wing Republicans who have championed the George W. Bush cause over the past six weeks. Yet the facts in Florida are almost exactly those I posit for Nicaragua, with the actual conduct of the Republicans mirroring the hypothetical conduct of the democracy-killing Sandinistas. Yet in the United States, anti-democratic Republican behavior has generated not an iota of criticism from any Republicans, except for two notable dissenters on the Supreme Court. The Republicans’ lack of principle, their cowardice and corruption, their contempt for democracy, lie naked before the eye, draped only in layers of propaganda, lies, and half-truths that might impress Josef Goebbels.

The media punditocracy and the political establishment are now in overdrive, telling us we need to come together and accept George W. Bush as our president. “The wounds that have come from the passions of partisanship must begin to heal for the good of the country,’’ Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said in a statement that set the tone for other Republicans.

Not so fast, Mr. Hastert. That is the prescription for scoundrels and opportunists, or for a slave population, but not for a free people.

The job for those of us who cherish free and fair elections, who value democracy, is to remind the morally challenged George W. Bush that he is not a legitimate president of the United States. A true leader for a free people would demand that all the votes be counted before accepting power. Bush and his cronies have stolen the election. We need to make every day of his presidency a living hell, so that no individual or political party will ever dare do this again. A living hell!

It is what Tom Paine and Patrick Henry would have done. It is what Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass would have done. It is what we must do with every fiber of our beings. It is the only option for those who believe in the American experiment in democracy.