IN THE aftermath of the Senate election in Massachusetts, the focus of attention is inevitably on what it means for Barack Obama. The impact on the Democratic president of the loss of the late Ted Kennedy’s seat to the Republicans will, no doubt, be significant (see article). Yet the result could be remembered as a message more profound than the disparate mutterings of a grumpy electorate that has lost faith in its leader—as a growl of hostility to the rising power of the state.
America’s most vibrant political force at the moment is the anti-tax tea-party movement. Even in leftish Massachusetts people are worried that Mr Obama’s spending splurge, notably his still-unpassed health-care bill, will send the deficit soaring. In Britain, where elections are usually spending competitions, the contest this year will be fought about where to cut. Even in regions as historically statist as Scandinavia and southern Europe debates are beginning to emerge about the size and effectiveness of government.
There are good reasons, as well as bad ones, why the state is growing; but the trend must be reversed. Doing so will prove exceedingly hard—not least because the bigger and more powerful the state gets, the more it tends to grow. But electorates, as in Massachusetts, eventually revolt; and such expressions of voters’ fury are likely to shape politics in the years to come.