Imagine an election where the incumbent president can bribe the voters with public housing, household appliances and social welfare programs — all paid by the state.
Envision a contest in which the incumbent uses state funds and workers to conduct a military-style "Get Out the Vote" campaign among his supporters.
Visualize a place where the free media is constantly threatened with censorship and the state media is used to promote the incumbent.
Picture a country where the incumbent controls the courts, the legislature and the election commission, and where his near-dictatorial powers already have allowed him to eliminate term limits and perpetuate his time in power.
How can anyone defeat such a president in such a country?
That's why Venezuela again reelected 14-year President Hugo Chavez to another six-year term on Sunday. He got 54 percent of the vote.
Nevertheless, the fact that his challenger, Henrique Capriles, was able to get 45 percent of the vote on such an unleveled playing field is quite impressive. In 2006, Chavez won by a much bigger margin.
Obviously, many Venezuelans are fed up with Chavez's conflictive nature, his ridiculous clowning in international forums, his arrogant name-calling, his alliances with totalitarian despots, his subsidizing of socialist regimes at the expense of a 35 percent poverty rate in his own country. Obviously, many are tired of the rampant violent crime in Venezuela, the personal freedoms that are constantly restricted by the government and a patronage system where upper mobility is reserved for faithful Chavistas.
But all the complaints about the Chavez regime were obviously not enough to overcome the cranked up patronage machine, the free use of state media and the politically-timed giveaways and handouts that bought him another election.
That's how a socialist gets reelected in Latin America nowadays.
Now, look at President Barack Obama — does he really look like a socialist to you?
Those who are so quick to accuse Obama of being a socialist should take a good look at Venezuela. Putting it mildly, their socialism is unlike ours. Theirs is real.
Just because you seek a fair health care system or you believe rich people should pay a fair share of taxes — that makes you a closet commie?
When our political leaders democratically advocate for social programs that benefit the middle class and the poor, does that make them socialists? Really? The kind of socialists that take away our freedom? Why, because they took away our freedom to be recklessly uninsured? Can we really compare them to Hugo Chavez?
In fact, when it comes to manipulating elections through extraordinary (and bordering on illegal) measures, the Chavistas have much more in common with U.S. Republicans than with Democrats, especially when it comes to disqualifying or dissuading their opponents from voting.
When he celebrated another election victory Sunday, Chavez said Venezuelans "voted for socialism." Winning reelection in spite of his well-know bout with cancer, he obviously feels he has a new mandate to continue limiting dissent, confiscating private property, controlling the country's oil-based economy and turning Venezuela into a communist dictatorship.
He makes no effort to hide the fact that he still believes in a failed ideology, that he admires the Fidel Castro model of ruling in Cuba, and that is always ready to defy the United States and to stand beside our most dangerous enemies.
Voting for Obama simply doesn't fall in the same category. Just because Chavez has said he would vote for Obama, that doesn't mean Obama would vote for Chavez. Let's get our socialists straight, ok?
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.