- By Will InbodenWill Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
Tomorrow is election day. It brings — at last — an end to this exhausting campaign season. A respite that I’m sure President Obama and Gov. Romney welcome more than anyone. By this point just about everyone who cares in the outcome has had their chances to pontificate, contribute, mobilize, volunteer, and otherwise do their part for their chosen candidate. Our crew here at Shadow Government has expressed our opinions.
Many have observed that this is one of the most consequential elections in recent American history, and I don’t disagree. There are not just two candidates competing but two different visions over the American future, and fundamental questions such as whether our nation can still be a place of opportunity, enterprise, aspiration, upward mobility, and limited yet effective government. But without downplaying the gravity of tomorrow’s vote, here I want to pivot away from any last minute campaign interventions and instead reflect on this moment in the life of our nation – at once still young yet also the oldest constitutional republic in the world. History and geography both offer some welcome perspective and, I hope, reassurances for all Americans.
First, let us take pride in but never take for granted the fact that whichever candidate loses will honor the will of the electorate. Every time an incumbent American president is defeated, he willingly steps aside and permits the greatest peaceful transfer of power in world history. Every time a challenger loses to an incumbent, he accepts the result and submits to the authority of his president. Even the most fervent partisans on both sides will appreciate that should President Obama lose, he will graciously relinquish power to President-elect Romney. And if Gov. Romney loses, he will graciously step aside and honor President Obama’s second term. Americans don’t have to worry about the defeated candidate mobilizing a militia of tanks in the streets, or riots in the cities, or secession. (Sure, Florida in 2000 wasn’t pretty, but the fact that it was peacefully resolved further reinforces this point).
Second, while the consequences of this election are substantial, they are not existential. Our nation’s current trials are severe, but we have been through worse. This is not 1796, when the question of whether our republican experiment in ordered liberty would endure was answered by George Washington’s willingness to step aside and allow an election for his successor. This is not 1860, when secession and war loomed, and the nation’s very existence was in peril. This is not 1940, when world war approached. And this is not any of the Cold War elections, when Americans voted not just for the man who would preside over their economy but also over the launch codes and contest with the Soviet Union that threatened global apocalypse.
Third, the very fact that we can vote and choose our leaders is a blessing that many in the world today do not know. Two days after our presidential election, the Chinese government will also begin to transfer power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping – an outcome that is foreordained, and that 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will have no say in. Russia held its own stage-managed election earlier this year, when the only uncertainty was the final numbers in the manufactured margin of Vladimir Putin’s coronation. Some 35,000 Syrian citizens have been killed by their own government for their efforts to demand accountability of their rulers and a voice in their nation’s future. Many Iranians risked (or even sacrificed) their lives for the same thing in 2009. The freedom we have in the United States to choose our own leaders and know that they will honor the democratic process "has been bought with a price," to invoke the biblical phrase. Let us honor it, and be thankful, as we vote this election day.