by Roy G Biv, Tue Jan 20, 2009 at 09:17:29 AM EST
Shortly after he declared our long national nightmare to be over, Gerald Ford asserted that his arrival in the Oval Office, unelected, on the heels of the worst political criminal this country had ever known, was proof that these United States are "a nation of laws, not of men". On its face, the remark seems at best ironic, and at worst downright deceptive. But it turned out to be true. For two years, Mr. Ford functioned, if not brilliantly, then competently, as our chief executive, and then peaceably handed the reins to someone else when he failed to convince the electorate to let him continue. Gerald Ford may not have been our greatest President, but he was an honest one.
As the remainder of the Bush presidency can now be measured in minutes -- 76 of them, as I write -- rather than days, weeks, months, or years, I am put in mind of that moment. The orderly transfer of power is something that we in America are used to; it is about to happen for either the 44th or 26th consecutive time, depending on one's reckoning: at any rate, for nearly 150 years, every time the electors have spoken, one man has given the titanic opportunities and duties of the Presidency to the next, without a shot fired in anger. This has happened when the parties disagreed vehemently, when, perhaps, they hated one another, when their ideologies were massively opposed; even, once, when it seemed that the man who was taking office had effectively stolen that office from the direct deputy of the man who was leaving it.
It's something of a miracle, don't you think? In most places on this Earth, to this very day it is the norm for one person or group of people to seize power and weild it until it is wrested forcibly from their fingers. It is so in the world's largest nation, it is so in some of its smallest, it is so in some of our closest neighbors, it was so for our own ancestors and perhaps some of our relatives. Even in parlimentary monarchies -- notably the British Commonwealth -- the head of state, however neutered his or her powers might have become in recent centuries, gives up power only in death.