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Amid the pomp and circumstance of President Barack Obama’s inauguration this week, a short but significant statement by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee caught my attention. In case you missed it, here’s what he said just before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath of office to Vice President Joseph Biden:
"The late Alex Haley, the author of Roots, lived his life by these six words: Find the Good and Praise It.
Today we praise the American tradition of transferring or reaffirming immense power as we inaugurate the President of the United States.
We do this in a peaceful, orderly way.
There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection.
This is a moment when millions stop and watch.
A moment most of us always will remember.
A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy.
How remarkable that this has survived for so long in such a complex country with so much power at stake—this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint to respect the results.
Last year, a tour guide at Mt. Vernon told me that our first president, George Washington, posed this question: ‘What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States?’
And then Washington gave this answer: ‘Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.’
Today we celebrate, because this is the 57th inauguration of the American President.
Find the Good and Praise It."
As an American, it can be easy to take for granted that elections—presidential or other—take place at regular intervals and that power is transferred peacefully as we witnessed this week. To preserve this blessing of our liberty has been the work of generations. In too many places around the world, elections simply don’t take place or, if they do, they are cover for regimes more concerned with power and personal gain than the freedom and prosperity of their citizens. In our own hemisphere this month, an ailing dictator from Venezuela failed to appear for his inauguration but remains in power—and the world hardly cared. In other places, democracy advocates are frantically fanning freedom’s nascent but hopeful sparks. From Egypt to Burma to Iran and far beyond, today’s freedom advocates need our support. So as we reflect on another election year, let’s remember how fragile freedom is and honor this 57th inauguration. To learn more about how brave individuals are breaking through fear to advocate for their fundamental freedoms, visit the Bush Center’s Freedom Collection. This post was written by Amanda Schnetzer, Director of Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute
Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.