When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, election night resembled New Year's Eve.
We would go to the corner candy store (and there was a candy store on nearly every corner!) to buy a tin horn for one or two pennies. Each horn was colored in red, white and blue.
As the returns came in, our parents would listen attentively to the radio. For us, it was an occasion to celebrate, to blow our horns. The street got noisy. It didn't matter to the kids who won — this was a night to celebrate.
In the aftermath of the American election, we can celebrate too.
For, once again, the electoral system devised by our patriot forefathers has served our nation well. Nothing illustrates it better than the election night speeches of the candidates.
On this night, McCain praised Obama “for his ability and perseverance…. he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans.” Of that achievement, McCain said: “I deeply admire and commend him.”
And, a short time later, Obama, greeted tens of thousands of his supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park and praised McCain: “He’s fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.”
So, after a long and bitter campaign, did this show that both candidates were being hypocritical, that they never meant what they said on the stump? Or, worse, that they did mean those insults but figured it wouldn’t look good to keep the harsh words flowing on election night?
The answer, I believe, is: neither.
Both Obama and McCain love this country and, after a hard fought campaign, they, as patriots, were eager to move on.
It was certainly more difficult for McCain, the loser, to say nice things about his opponent. But few can doubt how sincerely both McCain and Obama embrace the Constitution and the system that guarantees a peaceful transfer of power every four years.
The other day, the Bushes cordially received the Obamas at the White House and, soon after, the Cheneys met the Bidens at the vice presidential mansion. Both occasions were more than gestures. They symbolized that most basic characteristic of American democracy — continuity.
In nations like Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Macedonia elections are often conducted amid outbreaks of violence and intimidation. For those struggling to establish democracy in other nations, the American election was an inspiration.
Although many in the world thought we had deep-seated prejudices that would never let it happen, we elected a black man. The lesson had to be that, despite some flaws, our democracy works.
Our election was something to celebrate, not only here, but everywhere.