Much tradition in pomp of inauguration
Three nations, three democracies
With the 55th presidential inauguration just a few short days away, activity in the nation's capital is at a fever pitch. Hotel rooms are booked, restaurant reservations have been taken, invitations to dozens of receptions throughout the city have been extended, and the tuxedos and ball gowns have been prepared for an elegant night at one of the inaugural balls being held the evening of Jan. 20.
I am especially proud to see that this year's round of balls includes the "Commander-in-Chief's Ball." This special event is being held exclusively for members of our armed forces who are either returning from or deploying to the Middle East. I think this is further strong proof of how proud our president - and, indeed, the entire nation - is of the men and women in uniform.
The pomp and ceremony of a presidential inauguration is steeped in tradition, dating as far back as the early 19th-century. The glitz and style of the celebrations seen in the inaugurations of modern times have - as any historian will tell you - become much more subdued when compared with the "open house" party thrown by President Andrew Jackson following his inauguration in 1829.
At that time, the doors of the White House were opened to anyone wishing to see the new president, and as a result the home and many of its furnishings were damaged by the excited crowd. In fact, the White House Historical Association reports that it took one full week to clean and repair the president's home following his inaugural party.
More than anything else, however, the inauguration represents something very important in the life of our country: the transition of authority from one president to the next and the move from one set of goals and hopes for the American people to another.
This year's inauguration will not mark a change, but rather a continuation of the administration of President George W. Bush. As important as this year's event is for so many reasons, I cannot help but be struck by how old our democratic form of government is when compared to others around the world. In fact, I have been drawn in recent days to considering the events in other, younger democracies around the world.
Young governments in Romania, Iraq
Not even 20 years ago, many of the nations of Eastern Europe operated under a communist form of government, with the president and Politburo of the former Soviet Union exerting a great deal of influence and control over these satellite nations. In 1989, however, things began to change: the Berlin Wall fell, the communist governments in many of these nations were dissolved, and ultimately the Soviet Union itself broke apart into separate, autonomous nations.
One of these nations, Romania, was liberated from the rule of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu when he was assassinated in December, 1989. In the nearly two decades since, Romania with its 22 million inhabitants has become a beacon of democracy in that part of the world. Just a few short weeks ago, Romania held its presidential elections, and the result was a new administration. Even in a nation with such a young and still fragile democratic form of government, the defeated incumbent candidate was gracious and pledged his cooperation with the incoming government.
Twenty years ago, an election of this type in that region of the world would have drawn major international media coverage, and indeed they did for the first few years. Now that free elections and representative government have taken root in that nation, elections such as the one just held in Romania are old news - but proof that democracy does work.
In just two weeks, we will be faced with a similar situation in Iraq, as the people of that nation go to the polls to directly elect a president for the first time in their history. Like Romania, the Iraqi people have suffered under decades of tyranny and oppression and are about to take their first steps towards a more hopeful future.
Naturally, there are concerns both within Iraq and around the world that this process may not work. Many feel the elections are being rushed forward, even as the conflict against the militants within the Sunni Triangle continues. There are also concerns that many eligible men and women within Iraq will not be afforded the opportunity to register to vote, or that they will be scared away from the polls by the threat of harm. Some critics even feel that these elections may only provide a temporary result, and that once coalition forces withdraw the government will revert to an old-style autocracy.
These are all valid concerns, but we shouldn't write off the potential success of the Iraqi elections before they even take place. As Romania proved in 1989, a new democracy can succeed with tremendous effort and dedication on the part of its citizens and leaders. Even looking back in our own nation's history, it took nearly six full years from the formal conclusion of the War for Independence before our current form of government was developed, approved, and implemented.
So as many of us gather at the U.S. Capitol this week, or watch the events unfold on television, we should each remember that what to us seems like a day for pomp and parties is in fact the celebration of the freedom for which millions of people around the world are continuing to struggle to attain.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents the people of this area in the U.S. H ouse of Representatives.