As the world watched millions of Iraqis walk miles to vote, in some cases stepping over puddles of blood left by suicide bombers, a glum John Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press" and urged Americans not to "overhype" Iraq's elections.
Absurdity has no richer friends.
On one hand is the absurdity of a suicide bomber blowing himself up to prevent free people from directing their own destinies. Although the bomber certainly cast his ballot, didn't he? He certainly let his voice be heard. It's just that no one cared. "Watch your hem, honey, somebody left a mess."
On the other, we have the man who was almost president insisting that Americans seeing people formerly enslaved casting their first ballots following liberation shouldn't get too excited.
Not to diminish the day's events, which produced some memorable images - men dancing, women winking, everybody posing with their purple-tipped "Numero Unos" pointing toward the author of liberty. But let's not get too carried away.
OK, fine, just a quick Irish jig and we'll all calm down.
I feel like the guy in the TV commercial who, when his wife is looking, is Bob Cratchit, studiously paying bills. The instant she leaves him alone and closes the door, he's Charlie Watts, air-drumming thunder for "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
Likewise President George W. Bush as he addressed the nation Sunday, commenting on the super-successful (not to overhype or anything) elections, struggled to keep a straight face. You could tell he was fighting to suppress the sort of grin one can't describe in a family newspaper. What canary feathers?
It's been amusing to watch as many Democrats (with notable exceptions) have tried to remain deadpan and tepid in the presence of Utter Coolness - 8 million people reborn into freedom and voting after 50 years of tyranny. Even suicide bombers, who managed to kill a couple dozen innocents, couldn't dissuade voters from trekking to the polls.
Yet, in what should have been a nonpartisan day of elation - if only as witnesses to an epic event - Kerry and others couldn't quite bring themselves to say, "What a grand moment!" It was just a moment, after all. We all know that. We know that casting ballots doesn't end the insurgency or dampen terrorists' appetite for mayhem.
But Sunday's elections were huge, and not just for Republicans, or for neocons, or for whatever political entities were supposed to benefit from Iraqi courage. You don't even have to hand this to George W. Bush exclusively.
Hand it, instead, to the larger forces at play - those of the human spirit, the innate desire of every human to be free, and the unalienable right, as we ourselves declare it, of free men and women to pursue happiness.
That's what the Iraqi elections really demonstrated. Not the power of America's military or the political strength of Republicans or even the hard work of democracy's elves, though surely they deserve free pizza and unlimited refills for life. Rather, they demonstrated that even in the face of danger - evil, if you will - the moral force of freedom is stronger and more resilient, and ultimately will prevail.
And yes, let's not be coy on the question of evil. Iraq's interior minister said Monday that insurgents used a handicapped child as a suicide bomber in Baghdad on Election Day. The child apparently had Down Syndrome. Such is evil.
In whose face, by the way, some 60 percent of Iraq's registered voters flipped their purple-tinted index fingers. No small thing, that.
Nevertheless, the slog with which we're all now familiar officially continues. Iraq interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has warned of more violence. Articulating the realism born of grim experience, he said, "There will still be some acts of violence," but added, "The terrorists now know that they cannot win."
Sunday's elections were only the beginning of an electoral process that could lead to sectarian strife. Civil war could evolve. Even so, the day deserved more than muted acclaim.
Surely there is something appropriate between glee and despondency - an amiable dot between a too-hasty "Mission Accomplished" banner and glib reprimands for overhyping - that permits free people around the globe to stand and applaud a little longer than usual. To request, hopefully, an encore.
To the extent that Iraqis took control of their own lives for even a single day - inhaling freedom and giving hope to others still choked in the grip of tyranny - we have a right to grin.