Paul Greenberg

While others might be concerned about a favorite candidate who took a tumble Tuesday, I'm concerned about my old friend and political analyst, Tom Hamburger.

A fellow alumnus of the Pine Bluff Commercial, Tom has made good and is now covering national politics for the Los Angeles Times.

Not long ago he was back in Arkansas for an appearance at the Clinton School of Public Service, where he was hawking a book he and a colleague had just written. It sounded like a mighty fine one, too:

"One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century."

Nice title, even if it doesn't have quite the ring it used to before last Tuesday's election returns were in. In his always winning way, Tom walked us through Karl Rove's master plan, unstoppable juggernaut, and consummate political genius. It was a kind of crash course, to quote the book jacket, in why "Republicans remain firmly planted in the driver's seat of national politics."

Then came last Tuesday's crash.

But before then, Tom was awfully convincing. Especially when he explained how the Republicans' expertise at redistricting had assured their control of the House. And how effective the Republicans' sure-fire, micro-targeting, get-out-the-vote machine had proven, and why that meant the advantage now lay with the GOP in close races. As in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and Montana? All seem to have just elected Democratic senators. And the GOP's unbreakable hold on both houses of Congress has been broken.

My suspicions should have been aroused by a blurb from Newsweek's Jonathan Alter on the book's back cover. With his natural, mitten-covered feel for American politics, Mr. Alter announced that "One Party Country" "proves once and for all that Republicans are simply better than Democrats at the basic blocking and tackling of politics. Anyone who wants to know why the GOP will win more than lose for the foreseeable future needs to read this book."

The foreseeable future. That phrase has always mystified. Just how much of the future is foreseeable? A year, a day, an hour? Or just until the next election, as in this case?

Wha' happened?

It's not easy to tell from the reams of unending expert analysis available on television, blogs and, yes, in newspaper columns. Try to absorb all that verbiage, and the first thing that goes is any appreciation of the obvious.

After a midterm comeuppance like this one, what comes to mind is General George E. Pickett's answer when he was asked years later why his famous charge at Gettysburg had failed. "I think the Union army had something to do with it," he said.

And the Democratic Party had something to do with the outcome of these elections. The Dems, it seems, have learned from their earlier defeats. Did you notice the number of military men (Joe Sestak, Chris Carney, Jim Webb) on the Democratic ballot? Also the number of social conservatives, squeaky-clean types, and pro-business candidates?

This isn't your daddy's Mondale-Dukakis party any more, it's becoming Harry Truman's again. See the satisfying triumph of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut - not exactly a peace-at-any-price candidate.

The day after getting kicked in the teeth, Republicans could only sigh and wish John Kerry had given just one more speech or two. It might have made all the difference in an election as close as this one. But he didn't. Instead he disappeared from view after only one disastrous appearance. And you'd scarcely suspect that somewhere Michael Moore and George Soros must be still around. Who says Democrats can't learn?

Of course, Iraq had something if not everything to do with Republican losses, just as the late unpleasantness in Korea had a lot to do with Democratic setbacks in the congressional elections of 1950.

It's not that Americans are against war; we're just against long, unsuccessful ones - and administrations that can't seem to find a way to win them, or just a way out.

Wednesday morning, George W. Bush demonstrated that he's educable, too. He finally, finally accepted Donald Rumsfeld's offer to resign. It had dawned on him American politics abhors the same old same old in any administration, at least if it keeps producing the same old stalemate.

If victory can't be guaranteed, and it can't ever be, Americans will at least demand change. As they used to say in the service, Do Something Even If It's Wrong.

Another Republican president, at a far more trying time, didn't just stick with the same course and the same commanders and hope for the best. Abe Lincoln ran through commanding generals like a thresher, changing them after every defeat and even after a less than complete victory like Gettysburg. Until change brought victory.

This is, and always has been, an ever-changing country that demands dynamism in its leaders, or at least the appearance of it. And both parties are catching on. Which is just the way a two-party system is supposed to work.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.