Paul Greenberg

What a campaign this Scott Bown waged. His name was scarcely known in his own state a year ago. Now every politico in the country knows it. He did it not just by riding one issue -- all the deficits and doubts raised by the Democrats' health-care bill -- but by appealing to something deeper. Call it the populist instinct in American politics. Or just a general resentment at being taken for granted. A short name for it is independence, and at such times Americans can't resist showing it. Just to let the folks who've assumed they're in control know they're not. It happened again Tuesday night.

Result: A political campaign that began with a few volunteers in the snow ended with Air Force One making a sudden flight to Logan -- to no avail. The voters in Massachusetts have clearly had enough, and they may not be alone.

Has the country got the Democrats' attention yet? If this week's election, and its precursors on the East Coast, aren't enough to make the administration think again about government-run health care, and maybe a lot of other things, they're asking for more of the same. That's the message Massachusetts has sent.

But did Barack Obama and Co. get it? And if he did, will he act on it, and think again on the course that has just been soundly repudiated by voters in the Bay State? There is something ice-cold at the center of this president. Even when he was leading his party to a great victory, he seemed to be controlling his party's passions more than he was inspiring them. Has he grasped how deeply he has stirred the voters' passions -- and this time not in his favor? There is still time for him to change. Will he?

Other presidents have found themselves in political trouble in the middle of their terms, too. The successful ones have let the people know that their voice has been heard. Case in point: Bill Clinton responded to the historic Republican sweep of Congress two years into his presidency by letting the voters know he had got their message. He would go on to complete two terms in the White House.

In a way, this is what midterm elections are for: to let the party in power know how it's doing, and whether it needs to change course. In state after state now, the people have spoken. But will they be understood?

It seems there's always an Arkansas connection to every national story. Here's this week's:

Election day in Massachusetts, I was talking to a young matron -- my daughter -- who'd taken her five-year-old out to lunch in Brookline, Mass., deep in the heart of Greater Boston. It happens they were seated next to some visitors from abroad, who couldn't believe people in that urban enclave would give Republicans their 41st vote in the U.S. Senate -- maybe even enough to derail the health-care plan this president has made the keystone of his politics.

"Why would you vote for Brown?" one of the visitors demanded. "People will think you're from backwoods in Arkansas."

That's when the five-year-old's ears perked up. She recognized the reference, for she has a grandfather in Arkansas, and is due here for a visit soon. "We're going to Arkansas!" she said proudly. Yes, it's a big country. But it's also a small one. And a fellow who can drive his old truck to a seat in the U.S. Senate would probably feel right at home in these parts.


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.


 


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