An amazing thing happened on Jan. 21. Without the need for revolution, insurgency, terrorism or war, the power of the American government changed. True, it didn't change much this time around. But every four years, for better or worse, our leadership changes without the need for bloodshed; rather, the stroke of a clock is all it takes to alter the course of our country and the will of its people.
As clearly demonstrated in the last election, democracy is a messy business. It can soar with the eagles on the wings of powerful principles or revel in the gutters of political mudslinging. It seems to rarely find a middle ground these days, and yet, it continues to work, year in and year out, one side handing over the reins of power to the other as we continue our journey of democracy.
Regardless of how the chips fell this last election, we must pause to marvel at this amazing feat of political choice. Few countries enjoy such a peaceful exchange of power; instead enduring violent coups and dictatorships who wave the flag of democratic principles pretend, but only long enough to seize more control and undermine more freedoms.
is still a bold experiment and the U.S. its guinea pig. As Thomas Jefferson
once said, "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine."
Obviously, there is a lot of truth in that statement, particularly when we see a deadlocked Congress, unable to agree on a budget, a debt ceiling raise or even what to have for lunch.
But still, it's all ours. A shining example of what is possible when it comes to guiding a great society; one where the people have the say, not a demigod bent on enacting his own vision or will.
In the words of Sir Winston Churchill
: "Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
If it doesn't work, then we only have ourselves to blame. Sure, it's easy to blame the people we put in office. But we are the ones who put them there. And though we complain about their actions or inaction, we must remind ourselves that we are the ones who gave them the power and permission to do so. "I'm tired of hearing it said that democracy doesn't work. Of course it doesn't work. We are supposed to work it,
" said Alexander Woolcott
, a terse observation about our own lack of desire to drive democracy from the bottom up.
Though we may not always like our form of government, at least we have a right to say so, something few other nations can claim. We are accorded the freedom to voice our approval or dissension, often in very public ways, without fear of imprisonment, punishment or even death. And while "Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate we you dislike least,"
as Robert Byrne
once noted, at least we have the privilege of making that choice.
Is it ideal? Hardly. But it is uniquely ours. This bold experiment entered into by our Founding Fathers still works for us 237 years later, as witnessed by the peaceful change of power on Inauguration Day.
In the spirit of this historic passing of the political baton, we offer a toast from Rick Mercer
: "Here's to democracy. May we get the government we deserve."