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The True Miracle of the Day: The Peaceful Transfer of Power

By Peter RoffConservative Commentator/Former Senior Political Writer for United Press International

Inauguration Day 2009 is as important as everyone says it is. There's no escaping it. It is, as most of those covering it have already observed, an historic day, full of meaning for people all across the world. That a mere half-century after a time when blacks in parts of America were routinely prevented from voting we inaugurate an African-American president of the United States is a time of celebration for us all. It is a tangible symbol of how far the nation has come on race, one of the thorniest issues we as a nation have ever had to confront. We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that this is a subtext of the real story.

How unlike the rest of the world America is. It is all too easy to forget that we live in a world where national leaders are deposed through military coups, where democratically-elected leaders subvert the very process that brought them to power in the name of keeping it, where dictatorships pass from father to son.
The true symbolism of the Inauguration Day, something we can hope the rest of the world sees and takes to heart is that the transfer of power, in which one political party is being completely supplanted by its opposition, comes as the result of something that for us, is as routine and simple as an election. It is the power of the people, exercised in their votes -- not violence or mass arrest or social chaos -- that is agent that has brought about the change.

How unlike the rest of the world America is. It is all too easy to forget that we live in a world where national leaders are deposed through military coups, where democratically-elected leaders subvert the very process that brought them to power in the name of keeping it, where dictatorships pass from father to son. And it is also easy to forget that this nation has, for more than 200 years, managed to keep its democratic heritage intact and expand upon it, extending the franchise beyond its original conception.

The preservation of this democracy has come at great cost. The sons and daughters of this nation have been called to its defense more than once, perhaps no more nobly than for a war, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "testing whether that nation -- or any nation so conceived and so dedicated -- can long endure."

It has endured. And it has prospered. Freedom, the democratic ideal first appearing in ancient Greece, first entering the law through the Magna Carta, enshrined in our republican form of government by the Founding Fathers, has been this nation's most significant export.

Today we accept our lot as commonplace, ordinary. We forget how truly radical the men who designed our system of government were, trusting the people to wield the ultimate power in their hands. And how, for many years, that system existed inside a fragile effort to compromise on that which there ultimately could be no compromise. Yet we have managed to sustain it. This is the true miracle of the day, one about which we should be no less emotional. It is the hope of the world.

Peter Roff, a former senior writer at United Press International, is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, an organization that advocates for educational freedom and reform.