Democracy's Moment

Bob Schieffer on Camera CBS

When George W. Bush swore to uphold and defend the Constitution I turned to Dan Rather and said, "We have a new President. It's as simple as that."

Easy to say, but how remarkable that we are able to say it.

Thomas Paine saw the American Revolution as inevitable. He said no island could rule a continent for very long.

But in his fine new book The Founding Brothers, historian Joseph Ellis reminds us there have been many revolutions since ours, but ours no people had ever broken away from a colonial power.

Nor had there been anything like the office of the president they created - a sovereign with the combined powers of king, prime minister, and army commander who was accountable to the people.

It was an office designed for George Washington - and perhaps only Washington, the great war hero, commanded the respect to make it work in that fragile time.

But the founders were not just idealists who put their faith in one highly regarded man. They were also practical politicians who understood human nature and the corrupting influence of power.

They admired but did not always trust each other, even Washington. They were not about to replace one king with another, and so they created the ingenious system of checks and balances.

The system they created remains today virtually unchanged.

Yes, we have a new president - but what happened yesterday, what we have come to take for granted, was really no simple thing.

It was magnificient.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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