Paul Greenberg

You knew it was going to be an exhilarating election night when among the early victors in Florida was a retired lieutenant colonel by the name of Allen West. He was declared the winner in his race for Congress against one of the best-funded Democrats in the House.

What his critics used against him -- an incident in his long and proud military career that caused him to be disciplined -- only endeared him to some of us. And explained why a lot of folks outside Florida were rooting for him.

It seems that in August of 2003, in Taji, Iraq, the colonel was interrogating an Iraqi prisoner who had information about an imminent attack on the colonel's unit. Figuring that all the prisoner needed was a little encouragement, Col. West punctuated his questions by firing his sidearm. He only fired it into the air, but that was enough to make the prisoner, a fast learner, remarkably cooperative. The information was promptly provided and the lives of who knows how many of his troopers saved.

That's not the end of the story. There's always the disciplinary hearing. At his, in December of that year, the colonel offered no apologies for his actions. Indeed, he said he'd do the same thing all over again if he had to. As he put it, "If it's about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I'd go through Hell with a gasoline can."

Any objections? Not from most of the voters in Florida's 22nd Congressional District. He won his election handily.

Incidental intelligence: Allen West is the first black Republican congressman from Florida since Reconstruction, a hopeful sign that black Americans are learning not to put all their support in just one party's basket.

The whole of Election Day was like that -- an experience in shattering stereotypes. Next morning, taking my bike ride, a working man leaning up against his pick-up must have recognized me by the picture that runs at the top of this column. "How 'bout them elections?" he shouted.

"Yes-s-s-s!" I affirmed, the way I'd learned to do at black church services.

"Right!" I heard him shout as I pedaled on.

So much for the myth about working people not rooting for Republicans.

Barack Obama isn't the first president to get a thumpin' a couple of years after enjoying a landslide victory. He joins a long and distinguished line, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. ... It's not just a pattern for a president's party to suffer a midterm setback, it's just about an American tradition.


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.