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43 Turns Classy Face to 44

President George W. Bush this morning delivered one of the nobler welcomes for a chief executive turning over the White House keys to a member of the other party.

No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story — a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.

Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes — and four decades later see a dream fulfilled.

In similar circumstances, the departing president usually cites the will of the people and the workings of democracy, in messages that usually seem code for "life sucks."

Take that of Missouri plain speaker, Harry Truman:

The people of the United States have elected Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as their president. In our democracy, this is the way we decide who shall govern us. I accept the decision as representing the will of the people, and I shall give my support to the government they have selected. I ask all my fellow citizens to do the same.

Pretty warm, huh? Reminds me of the way Nancy Reagan endorsed John McCain.

Speaking of Reagan, Jimmy Carter had to congratulate the man who denied him a second term:

The people of the United States have made their choice, and, of course, I accept that decision but, I have to admit, not with the same enthusiasm that I accepted the decision four years ago. I have a deep appreciation of the system, however, that lets people make the free choice about who will lead them for the next four years.

Then there was the present president's dad, who not only had to turn over the keys to Bill Clinton but, like Carter to Reagan, had personally lost the race to him.

Well, here's the way I see it. Here's the way we see it and the country should see it, that the people have spoken. And we respect the majesty of the democratic system.

I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House.

And to be fair, 41's remarks came on election night, not after a long, dark night of struggling to strike the perfect note.

President Clinton never had that morning-after opportunity since the kerfuffle of the disputed 2000 vote left no home for the morning-after reflection:

"The American people have now spoken, but it's going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said. The process for that is in motion, and the rest of us will have to let it play out," he told reporters. "I want to congratulate Vice President Gore and Governor Bush on a vigorous, hard-fought, truly remarkable campaign."

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