"Is it a rebellion?" asked Louis XVI of the count who informed him of the fall of the Bastille.
"No, sire," came the reply. "It is a revolution."
That same question may be asked of the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis of California. Within the space of a few months, 1.6 million Californians signed petitions to force a vote to give themselves the power to fire Davis in disgrace, less than a year after they re-elected him.
The voters appear in the frame of mind of a 16-year-old who realizes the car he just bought with his savings is a lemon, and who is on his way back to beat up the used car dealer who unloaded it on him if he does not get his money back.
Every poll shows a majority of Californians and up to half the Democrats favoring Davis' ouster. A third would replace him with former Mr. Universe and film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has never held an office in his life.
Among the other "name" candidates aspiring to run the Golden State, with an economy larger than all but six nations, are ex-child star Gary Coleman, porn king Larry Flynt and the socialite-turned-scourge-of-the-SUVs, Arianna Huffington.
The leading Democrat to succeed Davis, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and the two leading conservative Republicans, Bill Simon, candidate for governor in 2002, and state Sen. Tom McClintock, are pulling, all three together, only 40 percent of the vote.
This is a people's revolution against the ruling class.
Sensing it, Schwarzenegger is running as a populist who will reject the bribes of the "special interests" and carry out the popular will as the People's Governor. And Californians seem to be saying: "Why not give Arnold a shot? He can't do any worse than the clowns we have up there now."
Those out to derail Schwarzenegger are digging up dirt from his sybaritic past in the world of bodybuilding and Hollywood babes. With only seven weeks before voting, the political elites hope to destroy Arnold by soiling his heroic image. Should they succeed, they will further demoralize, disgust and alienate Californians.
What folks in this capital, 3,000 miles away, should be asking is: Is this revolution confined to California? Is it the first tremor of an earthquake that will shake America? Is our national elite as out of touch with America as that crowd in Sacramento is with California?
Karl Rove should be studying the state closely. For, 25 years ago, Californians launched a tax revolt with Proposition 13 that Ronald Reagan mounted and rode all the way to the White House.
But against what are Californians rebelling?
They believe Davis lied to them about the state's $38 billion deficit and the pain and cost of closing it. They are fed up with the exploding cost of government and a soaring tax burden that hits the middle class hardest. They feel the loss of the manufacturing jobs going overseas and see the white-collar jobs beginning to follow.
They have suffered the hammer blow of the collapse of the dot.com boom in Silicon Valley. Finally, native sons are packing and heading east in the hundred of thousands every year because the California they grew up in has become another country.
In one generation, countless millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, have poured in, sending poverty rates soaring in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties. In Los Angeles County, one survey found that half the 9 million people speak a language other than English in their homes.
What should concentrate the mind of Karl Rove is that the combustible material that has exploded in California is present in many of the states President Bush has to carry in 2004.
Almost every state has a budget crisis. The federal deficit is headed toward $500 billion. President Bush, too, has a credibility problem over why we went to war. The immigration issue is red hot nationwide, which is why the president backed away from a pledge to Mexico's Vicente Fox to grant amnesty to millions of illegal Mexican aliens. One in every seven manufacturing jobs, 2.5 million, has vanished under President Bush. Now, white-collar jobs are being lost to Asia, as American companies use satellites to communicate instantly with their new back offices -- in India.
The Democratic race for the nomination is being ignored by TV news-talk channels that cannot get enough of Arnold and the recall. We may be on the cusp of a people's revolution.
Let us hope so. In any event, the California revolution, which has appalled the elites, is the best political news in many moons. Hallelujah, hallelujah.