Democracy requires that some people, at least, stand back from the immediate controversies of public life in order to set the stage on which debates aimed at wisdom, not just at partisan victory, can take place. One used to think of the League of Women Voters as such an arena-setting organization. The league, according to its popular image, is a bipartisan, indeed nonpartisan, agency whose first interest is in the proper functioning of American democracy. The league, in its classic form, seemed to understand that there were some things more important than winning tomorrow’s argument.
This past February 27, however, the league’s national president, Nancy M. Neuman, sent a letter to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the gist of which was contained in the following sentence: “The League of Women Voters strongly urges you to vote against releasing to the contras the last $40 million that remains of the $100 million of military aid appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 1987.”
Not very nonpartisan, that.
Reasonable people can, and do, differ about the right course for U.S. policy in Nicaragua. But reasonable people should also agree on the nature of the Sandinista regime (Marxist-Leninist), the human rights situation it has created domestically (bad), and the threat it poses to peace, security, freedom, and prosperity in Central America (grave). None of this was acknowledged in the League of Women Voters’ letter. The league made a ritual nod to “the Contadora process” (now viewed with supreme skepticism by the democratically elected presidents in Central America). But such incantations hardly exhaust one’s responsibilities for defining an alternative policy that holds some prospect of recovering the hijacked revolution of the Nicaraguan people.
Many people who oppose U.S. support for the resistance are angry when they are accused of being Sandinista supporters. Some of them have good reason to be disturbed: while some of those who oppose the resistance are Sandinista supporters, others surely are not. But the latter bear a special responsibility in the debate, which is to define precisely how other-than-military means can bring about a Nicaragua that has joined its neighbors on the road to democracy. The League of Women Voters, unhappily, didn’t advance that crucial discussion one inch in its February lobbying of the Congress.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.