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The Carter-Chavez Connection By: Steven F. Hayward
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 26, 2004

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal online edition, Jimmy Carter attempts to respond to critics of his role in legitimizing the recent Venezuelan referendum on the loathsome Hugo Chavez regime.  The nub of the problem is this: While exit polls conducted by the very reliable American firm of Penn, Schoen, and Berland showed Chavez losing by a large margin (59 – 41), the official results put Chavez free and clear by a vote of 58 to 41 percent.     

How could the exit polls be nearly 40 points off?  The short answer is, they weren’t.  Chavez, whose anti-democratic, pro-Castro sympathies are openly proclaimed (he tried to block the constitutionally-mandated referendum for months), stole the election.  “I think it was massive fraud,” Doug Schoen told Michael Barone at U.S. News and World Report. “Our internal sourcing tells us that there was fraud in the [Venezuelan] central commission.”  There are widespread reports of irregularities and evidence of fraud, many of them ably recorded by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal last week. Carter is untroubled by any of this, and declares that Chavez won “fair and square.”

The remarkable thing about Carter’s “rebuttal” to his critics is that he does not offer any refutation of the criticisms.  Instead, his article reads like a puff-piece for the wonderful character of the Carter Center, and offers up a fog of sentimentality.  The Carter Center has monitored more than 50 troubled democratic elections, all of them either highly contentious or a nation's first experience with democracy,” he writes, neglecting to tell readers that he has opposed the use of independent exit polls in most of those elections.  In this case, Carter simply waives away the exit poll results as though they didn’t exist.  Incredibly he writes: “During the voting day, opposition leaders claimed to have exit-poll data showing the government losing by 20 percentage points, and this erroneous information was distributed widely.”  Erroneous information?   Carter apparently believes that he is not only entitled to his own opinion, but also to his own facts.  (Neither does he answer or rebut any other specific allegations about the election.)

Carter has a long history of coddling dictators and blessing their elections, and among his complex motivations is his determination to override American foreign policy when it suits him.  In the famous 1990 election in Nicaragua, Carter, along with most of the liberal Democratic establishment in Washington, openly hungered for a Sandinista victory as a way of discrediting the Reagan-Bush support for the Contras.  Sandinista strongman Daniel Ortega had visited Carter in the U.S. and called him “a good friend,” and Carter consistently downplayed or excused reports of Sandinista pre-election thuggery and voter intimidation.  When the early vote count showed the Sandinistas losing by a landslide, the Sandinista junta ordered a news blackout and appeared on the brink of canceling the election.  Although Carter pressured the Sandinistas to relent, he also told opposition candidate Violetta Chamorro not to claim victory until Ortega had conceded defeat—potentially disastrous advice if Ortega had ignored Carter and nullified the election.  Carter returned to the U.S. bitterly disappointed that his Sandinista pals had been turned out.  (Among other ridiculous things Carter said about Nicaragua under Communist rule was that there was “as much free enterprise, private ownership, as exists in Great Britain.”)

There is speculation that Carter blessed Chavez’s stolen election to prevent further violence, but it should also be kept in mind that Carter also enjoys seeing the interests of the United States, especially when defined by Republican presidents, humiliated.  Chavez’s anti-Americanism will now intensify, thanks in part to the worst ex-President in American history, who has never been content to let his four years of ruinous rule be his last public deed.

Steven F. Hayward is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines Democracy, Coddles Dictators, and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry.

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