Ask any American over the age of fifty who the greatest United States president of the 20th century was and the answer will be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR, there was no other.
FDR, the man who commanded world respect from a wheel chair. FDR, the president who brought the free world into War against evil, wounded, weary, depleted but triumphant. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the United States president who died of a cerebral hemorrhage, soon after being sworn into office for his fourth term.
FDR was a giant of a president. And who succeeded him? A little man, a man whom the country knew little about. Slight in stature and slight in reputation, Harry S. Truman was called to take over the presidency on April 12th, 1945. How could anyone fill the shoes of FDR? Certainly, how would this man from Missouri, this son of a farmer, this haberdasher, survive the weight now being placed upon his slight shoulders?
People, especially people who live in democracies, get nervous about changes in governments. But in a democracy, change - after a leader's stroke, after an untimely death and even after an assassination, is conducted as an orderly transition of power and that is one of the beauties of a democracy, it is one of the building blocks that form a strong foundation for a government of the people, by the people and for the people. An orderly transition of power in times of disorder and disarray is what defines a working and healthy democracy.
In the end, this little haberdasher earned his place among the giants of world leadership. As president of the United States Harry S. Truman forced a Japanese surrender and dropped the bombs on Japan that ended the War. He brought Congress the 21 Point Plan that became immortalized as the Fair Deal. He created the Truman Doctrine that aided Greece and Turkey in warding off unwanted Soviet influence. And it was under the presidency of Harry S. Truman that the Marshall Plan was created, rebuilding war torn Europe.
So, too, with Israel.
Devastated by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the country, in shock and in mourning, carried on. The government carried on. The people carried on. And this time, in the wake of the debilitating stroke that signals the end of the political life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, they will do the same.
Anyone who looked at Sharon knew he was a ticking bomb, a walking health risk a man who flirted precipitously with an oncoming stroke or heart attack. A man of his age, his size, his weight, under all that professional pressure, it was just a question of time, it was inevitable, and it happened. Sharon, the mighty, has fallen. But the country has not.
Do not confuse a country in the throes of personal despair with a country in the throes of a power vacuum. There is no power vacuum in Israel.
Democracies do not shift in large pendulum swings. And Israel is a stable democracy. Democracies experience slight variances from side to side. And one of the great contributions Ariel Sharon has made as Israeli prime minister is that he has given a significant voice to the massive majority in the middle of Israeli politics. And because Sharon so aptly gave power through voice to that middle, there need not even be a slight swing of the pendulum in any direction as the government makes the transition from the reign of Sharon to the reign of the next Israeli prime minister and leader.
Transition of power in Israel is already, however serendipitously, in place. New elections are scheduled for March 28th. The economy is growing. The army and security systems are working at peak performance levels.
Do not worry about Israel.
Democracies move on despite the pain. Despite all the emphasis that we place on the leader, the president, the prime minister, democracies are much bigger than our leaders alone.
Democracies are about principles and about people. One of the classic characteristics of the anarchist, the assassin and the terrorist is the inability to comprehend democracy. Those who oppose democracy truly believe that if the head of state is murdered, the government topples. That is the case only in totalitarian regimes and even then it is not so clear.
Harry S. Truman is famous for having believed that "the buck stops here." The phrase is catchy, but when it comes to the transition of democratic leadership, "the buck" is passed in the best sense of the term.
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