Do you believe in the transforming power of freedom?
The Iraqi people do. You could see it etched deeply in the faces of those who went proudly to the polls last Sunday, braving death threats and proving, once again, that the ballot beats the bullet as a force for positive change.
Rush Limbaugh believes in it, too. In fact, the lead essay of the January issue of "The Limbaugh Letter" (a must-read for conservatives that you can subscribe to at Rush's Web site, rushlimbaugh.com) was titled "The Power of Freedom." In it, Rush makes an excellent point -- which, as long-time listeners can attest, he does regularly: Today's liberals are displaying a deplorable pessimism about our efforts to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, a pessimism that betrays the refreshing optimism of their political ancestors.
Jump back 44 years, for example, and you find President John Kennedy famously promising, in his first inaugural address, to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Go back to 1945, and you find President Franklin Roosevelt reminding Americans that "Almighty God ... has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth." Jump to 1941, and you'll hear FDR saying, "In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy."
For that matter, go back to George Washington, who said in his first inaugural address that "the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty" was "staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people."
My friends, we just witnessed that same "sacred fire" transforming the Iraqi people. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sight of people literally dancing in the streets. The joy, the relief, the pride they were experiencing was unmistakable as it lit up the faces of young and old. Think of the smiles we saw as Iraqi voters held up their ink-stained fingers in a modest but defiant signal that their world was changing -- that fear was being dispelled, replaced by the quiet dignity of self-determination.
Millions of them turned out to vote, more than even the most optimistic Bush administration official dared predict. And at 60 percent or better, the turnout rivaled what U.S. presidential elections tend to draw -- and we don't have people threatening to blow us up, behead us or "wash the streets" with our blood if we vote. But why be surprised? That's what happens when voting is a novelty -- when it's something you're willing to risk your life for.
And make no mistake: That's exactly what the Iraqi people did. They voted not only despite the threat of violence, but in the face of actual violence. They braved mortar shelling, car bombs and suicide attacks. At one polling station, Iraqis waiting in a very long line to vote saw an insurgent blow himself up before their eyes. Did they run away? No. They voted even though police had to clean the polling place of blood and body parts.
What an inspiration these people were. One woman put it very succinctly for The Washington Post: "Enough fear." Her determination was echoed by a man who said, "Whatever they would do, I would still vote. Even if I was dead, I would still participate. The vote comes from the bottom of my heart." Still another voiced the hope of a weary region: "God willing, this election will be the nail in the coffin of the terrorists."
Are we finished in Iraq? Of course not. The elections were an important step, but they remain just that -- a step. Our mission there isn't complete, as Heritage Foundation experts James Carafano and James Phillips wrote in a paper published the day after the election. Their "to-do" list includes a) training domestic security forces there as fast as possible, so the Iraqi people can take charge of their own security, b) helping the Iraqis build a federal form of government that allows power-sharing, and c) promoting economic liberty, which will help lay the groundwork for a stable society -- one less prone to the yoke of tyranny.
So let's carry on with the task God has entrusted to us, bringing the "sacred fire of liberty" to dark places -- and declaring: "Enough fear."
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared on WorldNetDaily.com