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Transition of Power

Crossposted at the Rockefeller Republican.

The term “Founding Fathers” is a plural noun, which in turn means that the face of the American Revolution is a group portrait. To be sure, Washington was primus inter pares within the founding generation, generally regarded, then and thereafter, as “the indispensable figure.” But unlike subsequent revolutions in France, Russia, and China, where a single person came to embody the meaning of the revolutionary movement—Napoleon, Lenin/Stalin, Mao—the revolutionary experience in the United States had multiple faces and multiple meanings that managed to coexist without ever devolving into a unitary embodiment of authority. If one of the distinctive contributions of the American political tradition was a pluralistic conception of governance, its primal source was the pluralistic character of the founding generation itself. -Joseph Ellis

Watching CNN over just the past few months one could see the kind of violence and turmoil that can come with a change of power in other countries. And we often have seen so-called democratically elected leaders simply refuse to give up power that had been given to them, often using their armies to remain in power.

While Americans now take it for granted, the peaceful transition of power from one leader to the next is a recent phenomenon in history, only dating back to the American Revolution. It is easy to forget, but the election of a new president, the orderly transfer of power, and the regular opportunity for us to change the nation’s course are some of humanity’s most amazing achievements. That we now regard this as normal testifies to the success of the Founding Fathers and their creation, The United States of America. This is why we are able to witness George Bush graciously welcome Barrack Obama into the White House and turn over the reins of power this Tuesday.

Imagine a leader who usurped civil liberties, condoned wire tapping, promulgated wars, tortured enemy combatants, was accused of having Darth Vader for a vice president. Imagine this leader being ridiculed as inept at best, evil at worst, during the longest and most contentious election cycle in recent memory. Now imagine this leader inviting his elected successor into the halls of government with unprecedented openness and cooperation. That is exactly what has happened in our country over the last couple months, and it is truly miraculous. For all of George Bush’s faults, he has helped engender one of the most productive and controversy-free transitions in recent history. Nowhere else can this level of bitterness be so swiftly swept aside so that the machinery of government can smoothly pass from one man to the next.

Stories of President Lincoln are everywhere to be found lately for the obvious parallels to President-Elect Obama. The symbolism, from the Illinois roots, to the soaring rhetoric, to the whistle stop tour en-route to the inauguration, is extremely powerful indeed. But as millions watch the first black man to be sworn into office as President of the United States, we should stop and recognize that it was the Founding Fathers’ genius that allows something this historic to occur. There is a reason much of Europe, and parts of Asia, modeled their governments after the USA. Perhaps that influence is now beginning to spread further into parts of the middle east, though time will tell.

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