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But, first, here my take. It is the defining moment of a democracy when an outgoing leader celebrates the election of a new one, from the opposing party. Think of George H.W. Bush welcoming Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Carter doing the same for Ronald Reagan.

Across the world, this is the acid test of a real democracy. Mexicans will tell you that they knew that they had gotten there when their president, Ernesto Zedillo, after 70 years of one-party rule, allowed free elections and stood with the newly elected successor and affirmed his legitimacy.

The basic and powerful idea behind this ritual is that in a democracy, the process is more important than the outcome. If a genuine democratic process has been followed, we have to accept the results, regardless of how much we may dislike them.

The ultimate example of this in recent American history might be Al Gore’s elegant acceptance of the process


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it.


ZAKARIA: Complicated, politicized, but utterly constitutional that put George W. Bush in the White House.

It must also have been very difficult for Richard Nixon to report the results of the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy won by a razor- thin margin and was marred by voter fraud, but he did. However much you dislike the outcome, you respect the democratic process.

That is what is at stake in Washington this week. The debate going on there was not trivial, not transitory and not about Obamacare. Whatever you think about the Affordable Care Act, it is a law that was passed by the House of Representatives, then the Senate, signed by the president, and then validated by the Supreme Court as constitutional.

That doesn’t mean it cannot be repealed. Of course it can be repealed, as can most laws. But to do so, you would need another piece of legislation, one that says quite simply “The Affordable Care Act is hereby repealed in its entirety” and that would have to then pass the House, the Senate and be signed into law by the president.

What you cannot do, what cannot be allowed to stand is the notion that if a group of legislators cannot convince a majority in both houses and the president to agree with them, would then shut down the government or threaten to default until they got their way. That is not democracy. That is extortion.

I would be happy to see President Barack Obama compromise on the budget, taxes, spending, even Obamacare, but he cannot compromise on the principle that the rules of democracy must be respected, whatever the outcome.

If Democrats had threatened to shut down the government or default on the debt to force the repeal of the Bush tax cuts or to defund the Iraq War, I would have hoped that President George Bush would have also been uncompromising.

America’s power and influence abroad derives in large measure from the strength of its democracy. And if politicians here start playing fast and loose with the rules, doing whatever it takes to get the results that they want, what does that say to people in Russia, Egypt, Iran, and Venezuela who get pious lectures on the rules of democracy from Americans?

It tells them that something is deeply rotten with the American system right now.


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