Today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th president is a special day for all Americans. Many might consider it even more special than many previous transitions of presidential authority.
Certainly at the top of the list is the ascension of the nation’s non-Anglo president. Many people consider it long overdue, coming 220 years after George Washington first took office and 143 years after ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery.
Others welcome an end to the Bush administration, which not only failed to keep its promise of a more frugal government but also became one of the most autocratic in U.S. history.
Beyond the simple change in personnel, however, today we also celebrate one of the longest traditions of peaceful transition of power in the world. While the focus is on the incoming administration, the transition itself deserves equal appreciation.
Our Founding Fathers designed a system of self-supporting government, organized with enough checks and balances that it becomes stronger than any single official or political party. Even when the office has changed hands unexpectedly due to a president’s death in office, the transition has been smooth. Because we elect our leaders from our own ranks of citizens,
Contrast that with countries led by strong leaders who govern for life. For example, no one knows what will happen in Cuba when Fidel and Raul Castro die, or how long Vladimir Putin will remain as the de factor ruler of an increasingly aggressive Russia. Many times the death of a longtime ruler has led to a power struggle that at times has turned violent, as has been the case in some Asian, African and Soviet bloc countries.
Certainly, a good number of U.S. residents worry about a Democratic president supported by a Congress of the same party, given the party’s penchant for big, costly government programs that bleed taxpayers and do more to feed the federal bureaucracy than to impart actual benefits to individual Americans.
That is where continued involvement of the people, particularly at the voting booth, remains crucial.
Obama inherits a nation enduring several major problems, including the continued war in Iraq and Afghanistan and economic woes that have placed both individuals and large corporations under the threat of bankruptcy. And we can only hope that the national political scene breaks from its recent partisanship that often has seemed based more on politics than on policy.
To be sure, fiscal conservatives have a strong case for fighting the continued growth of government’s size and cost. That fight, however, can and should be fought in a forum that highlights reason and respect.
All those issues await the new administration and lawmakers beginning Wednesday. Today, we all celebrate the continuation of America’s long tradition of government by the people.