REP. ROBERT F. DRINAN (D-Mass.) led a Unitarian Service Committee mission to Central America this month, and came back urging a more compassionate American response to the travails of that region. So far so good. But then: "We found no one [in Nicaragua] who did not agree that the new government was good for Nicaragua," Rep. Drinan and his colleagues said. "Though national elections have not yet been scheduled, local government has been made more responsive through the election of neighborhood community action groups . . . In sum, it was clear to us that the government of Nicaragua at this moment in its history if truly representative of the Nicaraguan people."

What is it about certain liberals, the sort quick to deflate one-party military governments of the right, that makes them lap up on-party military governments of the left? It is possible to accept, though perhaps not in the sense intended, that the Drinan delegation "found" no one who did not agree that the new government was good for Nicaragua." But to imagine that local governments units controlled entirely by the dominant Sandinistas bear anything more than a superficial resemblance to true democracy is something else. And to conclude that the government is now "truly representative of the people" is to make precisely the leap that the Sandinistas deny by reserving all real power to themselves.

Perhaps it will all turn out well in Nicaragua. The old regime was finally repudiated by a revolution with broad popular backing. The new regime, however, has a way to go. Its attitude toward the people in whose name it governs is perhaps best indicated by its postponement of elections for at least a couple of years. It does not itself wish to test, democratically, whether it is representative of the Nicaraguan people or not.

Let us be clear. For the United States to offer assistance to the Sandinista regime, it is not necessary to beleive that it is the pride of Pericles, only that it offers the best available instrument to rebuild and stabilize a broken land. Aid is not a blessing but a bet -- necessarily a wary bet -- on a revolution directed by a small, armed, left-leaning group that holds real power tightly in its own hands.