Kathleen Parker

And now, ladies and gentleman, a final round of applause for the real winners of the midterm elections: The American people, democracy and, yes, Howard Dean.

Whether their candidates won or lost, Americans can't but feel grateful for a nation and a system of government that allows us every few years to peaceably reinvent ourselves.

On Election Day, no one had to step over a pool of blood to get to the polls; no one had to risk a sniper's bullet or an improvised explosive device to cast a ballot. And no one had to worry that sore losers might drag "traitors" from their cars for preferring a different approach to governance.

It is a remarkable thing, this process we take for granted; it is also good for the rest of the world to witness as Americans shift directions with civility and pledges of unity.

Whether those pledges hold is another matter, but the spirit implicit in the United States of America remains intact.

Following his party's "thumpin'," as the president described Tuesday's election results, George W. Bush articulated what is best about this nation. A reporter had asked how he could work with someone such as presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recently referred to Bush as, among other things, incompetent and a liar.

Bush replied: "I've been around politics a long time; I understand when campaigns end, and I know when governing begins. ... If you hold grudges in this line of work, you're never going to get anything done."

Imagine those words coming from a defeated Baathist.

Or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's as he stepped down. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, Rumsfeld said: "I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof."

We are all elevated in such moments when grace finds companionship in humility. That same humble acceptance was apparent among others who will be leaving government soon. All without gunfire, kidnappings or beheadings.

On Tuesday in Iraq, 16 civilians were killed and 22 others wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a cafe in northern Baghdad. Americans exhausted by a war they feel was unnecessary can blame the Bush administration for those events. But they should marvel at the privilege and miracle of democracy.

In exercising that privilege, Americans have voted to change course, as the sound bite goes. That was the clear message to Washington. But the equally important message to the rest of the world went like this: See, we can do this. We are capable of being self-critical; we can be flexible; we can adjust without resorting to chaos.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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