I spent Wednesday afternoon flying to Washington 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 in-flight 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 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, Georgia'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 four 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 20 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.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.