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
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'etat 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.
Robert W. McChesney
Institute of Communications Research
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign