Gov. Matt Bevin’s energetic inauguration ceremony put the finishing touch on a transfer not just of administrations but also of political parties, ideologies and even very different perspectives on the condition of Kentucky’s fiscal house.
It also reaffirmed that as much as any other single event in our tug-of-war political setting, we stand united as Kentuckians while still vigorously contending for our various convictions concerning policies and priorities.
Even as the outgoing Beshear and incoming Bevin administrations bickered over Kentucky’s economic situation, both – along with a bevy of past governors from both parties – shared the platform in a well-executed transfer.
Our nation’s founders didn’t take such developments lightly; neither should we.
Such peaceful transfers following periods of scalding campaign rancor began with the conclusion of the 1800 presidential campaign, among the vilest in American history.
John Adams helped ensure a peaceful transition from his Federalist administration to Thomas Jefferson’s Republican tenure despite being attacked in pamphlets by Jefferson surrogate James Callendar as a “repulsive pedant” and “gross hypocrite” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed hideous hermaphroditical character.”
Jefferson called for a spirit of reconciliation despite vicious claims by Adams’ enthusiasts that Jefferson’s sympathy for the French Revolution would bring similar chaos and bloodshed to America.
“We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,” he soothed in his inaugural speech.
This was a momentous accomplishment for a nation that had just come through the upheaval of a violent revolution to achieve its independence from the monarchial British.
Jefferson’s election brought about a different kind of revolution – one was nonviolent and ultimately settled by a vote though it followed an emotional, bitter campaign.
“The Revolution of 1800 was the first time in human history that the long-hallowed appeal to bullets was replaced by the appeal to ballots,” writes political scientist John Zvesper.
This happened in spite of the vicious negative campaign missives of the day and sharp differences on the federal government’s role.
Federalists sought a stronger federal government to restrain what they viewed as excesses of popular majorities; Jefferson’s Democratic – Republican Party wanted less federal authority and the majority of power devolved to states and their citizens.
Yet while Jefferson railed against the Alien and Sedition Acts and new taxes and deficit spending supported by Adams, he made no suggestion during his inauguration that his political opponent or supporters somehow were un-American, unprincipled or divisive because they clawed and fought for what they believed was the best course for the country – no matter how vehemently he opposed their views.
Jefferson and Adams both recognized that an unquestioned commitment to the nation’s good brought badly needed unity, notwithstanding political quarrels.
“Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle,” the Sage of Monticello also said during his inaugural address.
Bevin’s inauguration reconfirmed that while contradictory views may exist concerning government pensions, public education, Obamacare or the EPA, we Kentuckians stand united by advocating for the common good even while rightfully advancing our passionate, personal beliefs.
Who among us doesn’t want to keep pension promises to our elders, provide a good education for our children, make health care available to the sick, provide a safety net to the poor, breathe clean air and drink safe water?
Who among us doesn’t want – at the deepest level – the liberty to walk our own path and achieve our unique dreams?
We will have differences, of course. But it’s vital to understand that the disparities rest in opinions about how to reach those lofty goals – not in the desire to do so.
Bevin in his inaugural speech emphasized Kentucky’s motto – “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
“Do you believe that this is true?” he chimed.
The 2,500 voices answered affirmatively by belting out an incredibly powerful rendition – led by rising tenor Gregory Turay – of “we will sing one song for the old Kentucky home.”
One song, indeed. And with it, a singularly fitting way to conclude the miracle of another peaceful transition.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.