U.S. political transition an example for the world
November 16, 2008
In case you did not notice it, we just had a revolution. The rest of the world is watching us and learning.
In much of the world a shift in power and ideology means bloodshed. Most countries have some form of constitution, but that does not mean they follow it. They pretend, they terrorize, they practice fraudulent elections, and when that does not work, they utilize the old stand-by ” a military coup.
When pressed by outside forces such as the European Union or neighboring African nations, the transition is usually painful or marked by foot dragging. Tribal or nationalistic forces are set against one another; organized crime and genocide may be shoved below the public radar, yet be poised to resurface. If control of natural resources is an issue, power struggles revolve around who gets the goodies. It is only when the citizens themselves are able to put a stop to it or a visionary leader emerges who puts the good of the country before personal aggrandizement .
South Africa is a case in point of an unexpectedly decent transition under the circumstances. Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and even the outgoing white apartheid government ,worked to avoid a blood bath. If no visionary leader comes forth, there could be a different outcome as we are seeing now in other parts of Africa. Some countries in Eastern Europe experienced velvet revolutions after the fall of Communism, but the Balkans erupted in violence and ethnic cleansing. I fault power-hungry leaders for those failures.
What the United States brings to the table is a general blueprint laid out in our Constitution of how to change governments peacefully. We not only have a Constitution, we try to follow it. We have learned much from prior transitions, as well.
President Bush is to be especially commended for his foresight and preparation for transition. President-elect Obama repeatedly reminds us that we can only have one president at a time as he, too, honors the Constitution.
This year the transition period is more than just a change in office occupiers. It is a matter of our country’s well-being and safety. The extent of our readiness to deal with a terrorist attack on Day One is critical. Our enemies know that the best tine to strike is during the early days of a new administration when teamwork and internal lines of communication are embryonic.
The weakness in transitions rests on administrative issues of filling lower level positions and setting agenda. It is not so much a matter of terrorists testing a new government as it is their taking advantage of administrative confusion and distractions. Terrorists timed the subway bombings in Britain and the Madrid commuter train bombing just after new governments took over.
Sept. 11 occurred in the first six months of the Bush presidency. George W. Bush put concern about Al Qaida on the back burner and the new administration failed to pick up on warnings from lower level FBI operatives.
I am encouraged by the steps taken so far in this transition period. Both President Bush and President-elect Obama understand how important it is that all systems are set to go on Jan. 20, 2009. . I am also impressed by Obama’s reliance on experienced old hands. This is where VP Elect Joe Biden earns his salt by putting his 35 years of Senate Foreign Relations committee experience to use.
The economic crisis will make for a rougher transition. Obama’s approach to our economy is very different than President Bush’s. The Democrats consider the middle class to be the force that will pull us out of the morass. The Republicans want to prime the economic pump with relief to the wealthy and corporations. They have sworn to be a “check and balance” to the Democrats. However, if they check too often and too much, they will be in danger of being called obstructionists and gridlockers in the face of a clear mandate from voters to move in another direction.
The rest of the world is watching the transition with fascination, just as they did the presidential campaign. Many now have access to the Internet and to CNN. Our European friends knew every twist and turn of this past election and they worked hard to understand our electoral college process.
Many told me they were not knowledgeable about some of our smaller states, but now they could discuss Indiana and Colorado demographics as well as most Americans. News bulletins about the campaign flashed across their screens. They were laughing at unintended gaffs such as “lipstick on a pig” at the same time we did across the pond. In Africa, mud hut and city dwellers tracked the election because one of their sons was a candidate. It was very personal.
Perhaps some Third World leader will be inspired by how we in the United States conduct ourselves during transitions to a new administration and perhaps we are not dreaming to hope that mass slaughters and violence will become an obsolete method of changing governments.
There are going to be bumps along the transition road, but let us not get too smug. Democracy takes work and it takes practice. At least, we are starting this transition off on the right foot.
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