A peaceful transition

Published 9:08 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Historians will surely recall the words that were spoken on the steps of the Capitol building on Tuesday. They will likely record the many minor details — temperatures, the number of people packed onto the Washington Mall, the names of those who prayed or sang as part of the program.

Average Americans are sure to remember the image of an African-American man raising his hand to take the brief oath of office as he officially became the 44th president of the United States. They will recall the love and respect on the faces of the wife and daughters of America’s first black president.

But the image with perhaps the most significance came as President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, walked to a waiting Marine helicopter with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. There were smiles, hugs, kisses — even some laughter — as one president passed into history and another began to make it.

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Missing from that vignette were the trappings of shifting power that are hallmarks of nations across the globe: There were no gunshots, there were no tanks — not a drop of blood was spilled. In Washington on Tuesday, power was transferred from one party to the other in a series of cordial, respectful, peaceful ceremonies.

It is a testament to the strength of the American republic that the peaceful nature of Barack Obama’s rise to power is so unremarkable in the nation’s history. On the other hand, it is a testament to the foresight and judgment of our nation’s founders that the orderly transition of power is so remarkable on the world’s stage.

Tuesday’s events remind us that we should be thankful for the fact that America is a nation that settles its internal scores in the election booth and not on the battlefield.