Don’t Take The Routine For Granted

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

I spent Wednesday afternoon flying to Washington DC for my day job.  It’s a familiar and routine affair, but there’s still something about the approach to Reagan National airport that allows for a view of the nation’s capital that remains impressive to even the most cynical.  We have our monuments, all generally visible at the same time just before landing, standing for the hopes and dreams of those who built our nation as free people.

Despite the widespread use of inflight wi-fi services, I generally pass on the option.  Getting a couple hours break from the internet isn’t such a bad thing from time to time, and I need to do it more often.  Flights are often among the rare occasions that I read a book or a magazine.  For this flight, it was a copy of The Economist.  They have an excellent mix of political and economic news from around the world, from a mostly neutral but decidedly European viewpoint.

Among the first articles that caught my eye was a blub about elections in Georgia.  While those of us in the state know the meme of “two Georgias” very well, they were taking about the real other Georgia.  The ex-Soviet country of Georgia.

In parliamentary elections, the country just decided to elect a majority from the opposition party of Bidzina Ivanishvili instead of that of the current President Mikheil Saakashvili.  The line that caught my eye was this one: “It will be the first peaceful transition of power in Georgia’s history.”

Granted, Geogia’s history as a country is limited, but the peaceful transition of power in that region should not be taken for granted.  A longer article further inside the magazine gave Saakashvili high praise for allowing the opposition movement to organize and “mostly” campaign freely.  Such is generally not the case with non-Baltic former Soviet Republics.  Saakashvili will lose his Presidency, but is now considered a statesman on the world stage for fostering the emergence of true democracy within his own country.

On the other side of the globe, Venezuela held its own elections this week.  Despite the appearance of unpopularity of President Hugo Chavez, record turnouts, and exit polls declaring the opposition won, Chavez has again pronounced himself the winner.  In some countries, peaceful elections are one thing, but those who count the votes are another.

It is with these elections in mind that we look forward to our own election, now under 4 weeks away.  While we find it remarkable that the country of Georgia can have a valid election and a peaceful transition of power, we too often take for granted that we routinely have those here.  We should not.

Campaigns are ugly and many of us chose not to engage in them.  The process is frankly too long to the point that we seem to spend far more time on campaigning than we actually do on governing.  More of us should participate.  Even more should spend time to get informed about real issues and policy.  But the process is what it is, and it is something most of the world would like to try and emulate.

Even as divided as we often think we are, even with the different directions the two major parties would like to move our country with regards to many issues, the vast majority of Americans expect that on January 20th, we will have a peaceful transition of power or we will reaffirm our current President for another four years.  It is not our hope, but our expectation.

The monuments that welcomed me to D.C. – the ones named for Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson – are but symbols of the freedoms that they and other founders and subsequent leaders have left us.  In four weeks we’ll reaffirm the vision of them by voting our conscience.

It’s familiar and it’s routine.  But it is also something that is truly awesome and should not be taken for granted.


  1. saltycracker says:

    Was good until the conclusion. We will not be reaffirming their vision or culture. Depends on where one is coming from if that is good or bad. We have been voting in a direction of what can our government do for us rather than allow us to do.

  2. Max Power says:

    On the other side of the globe, Venezuela held its own elections this week. Despite the appearance of unpopularity of President Hugo Chavez, record turnouts, and exit polls declaring the opposition won, Chavez has again pronounced himself the winner. In some countries, peaceful elections are one thing, but those who count the votes are another.

    Charlie you seem to be implying that the Venezuelan election was somehow fixed. That’s almost assuredly not so. Despite the fact in the US Chavez is seen as a dictator he’s still very popular among the lower classes, so much so they were willing to overlook his failings. Which is not to say the elections were fair, Chavez basically turned the government of Venezuela into an arm of his campaign, the result he won 55% to 45% which to compared to the last election is very close. I think the total margin was less than 2 million votes. We in the US like to think of Chavez as a boogeyman but he’s simply your garden variety latin american populist who knows how to buy off the people.

    • Engineer says:

      Well, as long as you ignore the widespread accounts of voter fraud and coercion and the fact that when the exit polls showed Chavez loosing, they decided to leave the polls open til late into the night. I say that courtesy of a fiancee with family over there (more specifically the reports from them). But hey, whatever helps you feel better.

      • Max Power says:

        Listen I know Venezuelans, living in Atlanta who hate Chavez, they too have a list of rumors a mile long but in the end they’ll admit the poor love him. And the majority of Venezuelans are poor. That’s how he keeps getting elected. And it’s the Venezuelan upper class’s fault. For years they ignored the needs of the lower class and now they’re paying for it. But as you can see from Chavez’s shrinking margins as the poor go from being desperately poor to being comfortably poor the appeal of Chavez diminishes. If the Venezuelan upper class had put as much effort into improving the lives of the lower class as they have in battling Chavez, they probably would have gotten rid of him by now.

    • c_murrayiii says:

      It is hard to say the elections weren’t fixed when the opposition candidate got 3 mins a day to campaign on tv, while Chavez has carte blanche to interrupt any broadcast, any time of the day to speak for as long as he wants. Further, it is hardly appropriate to say the elections aren’t rigged/fraudulent when government workers are forced to submit to their bosses where they will be voting and to give their fingerprints for “verification” purposes. This is buying votes, this is bullying to get votes.

  3. c_murrayiii says:

    Good post Charlie, we too often forget how blessed we are to live in a country with routine, peaceful transfers of power. With one exception (1860), we’ve been fortunate, but that is certainly not guaranteed.

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