In the presidential candidacy of Wesley Clark, the Athenian party in American politics may just have found its Spartan.
The meteoric ascent of the former NATO commander is scrambling all the normal alignments within the Democratic Party and some of those without.
Whether Clark can sustain his initial momentum is anybody's guess; his first week as a candidate was a triumphal parade interrupted by the occasional self-inflicted wound. But for now, many of the longstanding battlements that have divided the Democrats for decades seem to have crumbled before him.
There's separation of powers for you. Just when Democrat Gray Davis looks like he might survive the October recall, along come three Democratic-appointed judges to postpone the vote.
Monday's decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit didn't merely scramble the already jumbled electoral situation in California. It was also a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's Gang of Five, the justices who plunked down George W. Bush in the White House three years ago with their ruling in Bush v. Gore.
The land may have been ours before we were the land's, as Robert Frost wrote, but not in California. The Progressives saw to that. When people arrived in my home state, there were no political institutions to reach out to them or provide an orientation; there was nothing they could join. Whether they came from the Midwest in the years before World War II, enticed by the glossy brochures with the pictures of orange groves that the chambers of commerce put out, or in desperation from Mexico during the past two decades, in flight from an economy in collapse, they found themselves in a peculiar vacuum: Politically, at least, there was no one around to welcome them.
At summer's end, after Conan the Conqueror had confounded all his foes and slain them on Leno, he came back to his fortress and was told he would have to debate.
"I crush my tormentors," snarled Conan the Victorious. "I psych them, I smash their bones. When my own people are jaded and bored, I journey to distant lands and new markets and sell my product to all who wish to feel my power."
But the people, he was told, were not bored. They wanted to know what Conan would do to restore their dream of a golden state.
If you had to pick a time and a place where the 20th century (as a distinct historical epoch) began in America, you could do a lot worse than 90 years ago in Highland Park, Mich. It was there, in 1913, that Henry Ford opened his new Model-T plant and announced, a few months later, that he'd pay his workers a stunning $5 a day on the revolutionary theory that the men who built cars should make enough money to buy them.