Sunday, June 21, 2009

Founding Father's Day

On this holiday when Americans remember and celebrate their fathers, I’m reminded of the gratitude we owe to the nation’s founders.

Watching the convulsions in Iran this past week, where a rigged election seems to have taken place, I’m especially grateful to the Father of our Country.

Though many urged him to become a king, George Washington voluntarily relinquished the presidency after two terms in office, handing over the executive office to his duly elected successor John Adams without tumult or strife, establishing a precedent for the orderly transfer of power in the U.S. that has endured to this day.

Accused of aristocratic pretensions, Washington revealed his true nobility not by amassing power, but in his willingness to give it up.

Whatever one’s opinion of George W. Bush, he got on a plane for Crawford, Texas, on Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day and flew into the sunset, the way he was supposed to—the way it’s happened with 43 presidents since Washington served. So conservatives were appropriately angry last week when CBS News tacitly compared Bush to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust denying, anti-Semitic bully who is the current president of Iran. Unlike the scene Tehran, there were no mass rallies, no riot police gassing protesters when George Bush lost the vote. Just a peaceful, democratic succession.

In 1951, the Twenty-Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution codified the two-term rule for the presidency. But before then, from Washington’s time up to Roosevelt’s extraordinary run in the White House, it was nothing but the power of precedent and George Washington’s towering example that prevented the nation’s leaders from grasping at lifetime tenure.

Iranians are naturally suspicious of the United States, which helped overthrow their popularly elected government back in the 50’s. Still, President Ahmadinejad might find a lesson in history here:

Graceful farewells are the signature of great leaders.