Democrats' Choice: Reagan or Ortega

Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington.

Ironically, concerning Nicaragua, only President Reagan can save the Democratic Party. Tending toward suicide as it recently has, my beloved Democratic Party--the party of F.D.R. in World War II; Harry Truman in Italy, Greece and Korea; and the J.F.K. of "bear any burden, pay any price"--is no longer able to save itself.

Democrats used to be anti-communist and pro-democratic. As the issue in 1947 was whether Greece would belong forever to the Communist Party, so the issue in 1988 is whether Nicaragua will. The movie "Eleni," based on the family story of Nicholas Gage of the New York Times, poignantly described the horror of the communist regime in Greece.

So it will also be with the movies made about Nicaragua 40 years from now. Today as then, the "trendies" are pro-communist. Ed Asner in Hollywood is riding on a train that goes back 70 years, to those who trusted Lenin. Every generation creates its own Lenin. Every generation finds its own disillusionment.

Only in future years--when the Sandinistas are no more--will we find out what agreements they made with Cuba and the Soviet Union; what deceptions they planned and how they executed them; the secrets of their private lives; their crimes against humanity and against their own people. They may have absolute power now. But absolute power corrupts. One day, those corruptions will be the theme of newspaper revelations, books and movies.

Today, though, led by Michigan's David Bonior in the House and Christopher Dodd (may his father, the late senator, forgive him) of Connecticut in the Senate, many Democrats in Congress think so well of Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua that they are willing to sell the Democratic Party in order to save him. They want to stop aiding the rebels who are bound gradually to defeat Ortega if they are supported steadily at moderate levels.

Ortega is certainly afraid of defeat. He has said that the coming vote in Congress on Contra aid is "the most decisive" moment in the history of the Sandinista Revolution. One may take that to mean that the rebels are no idle threat. Even though they received only $100 million for one year, they put the Sandinistas (who last year received $600 million from the Soviets) in a state of alarm.

Kill aid to the rebels, Democrats like Bonior and Dodd are saying. Turn them over to the Sandinistas. Hang all 15,000 of them out to dry. The important thing is to stop the fighting. Capitulate to the Sandinistas. Let Daniel Ortega rule.

Distinguished legislators Bonior and Dodd do not seem to realize that they are tying their own reputations forevermore to the atrocities yet to be committed in the name of the one-party, Leninist state of Nicaragua.

If President Reagan loses the vote on Contra aid, President Ortega wins. Bonior and Dodd can take their pick: Reagan or Ortega. President Reagan will be gone after Jan. 20, 1989. But President Ortega may be in power longer than Fidel Castro--and commit as many crimes.

Long before Jan. 20, 1989, however, comes the election of Nov. 8, 1988. Suppose that distinguished legislators Bonior and Dodd succeed this February in cutting Contra aid in Congress. That gives Daniel Ortega, the Leninist Bayardo Arce, and the head of the secret police Tomas Borge all of March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October to think of something that will humiliate the United States of America.

For eight years this battle has been Ronald Reagan's. If the Democrats kill his program now, they will be held responsible for what happens next. If they let it continue for the few months until November, Reagan will be held responsible. But the Democrats no longer think clearly.

Bonior and Dadd are happy to carry water for the Sandinistas, and to wear upon their own backs a sign that reads: "KICK ME." That is no reason why the rest of the Democratic Party should be, not to say the United States of America.

Whatever humiliation the Sandinistas have in store for the United States, however foolish they make the Sandinista-loving Democrats look, I hope that Bonior and Dodd will have the character, one day, to stand up and say aloud, before all their fellow citizens: "We thought we could trust Ortega. We didn't take his Leninism seriously. We're sorry."

I don't really mind if Bonior, Dodd, and friends wish to attach their own reputations to such Leninists as Ortega, Arce and Borge. But I resent deeply their taking the Democratic Party down with them.

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