IF A TREE falls in the forest but there's no one there to hear, does it make a sound? Well, that would depend if it was a Democratic, or a Republican, tree.

After all, when Democrats do something these days, it's News with a capital "N." They're the flavor of the month and, if we're to believe the mainstream media, the next decade.

President-elect? Check. Congressional majorities? Check. Gloating pundits like the insufferable Rachel Maddow? Check. Feel the love in the liberal blogosphere.

Republicans are glum, looking for solace wherever they can find it, trying to regroup and become all things to all people.

Poor, pitiful chumps. All together now, thumb horizontal, index finger vertical, slapped against the forehead. LOSERS!

Except in Louisiana. In fact, a big Democratic oak just fell in the Bayou State and no one heard because no one was listening. And that's sad, because it was an interesting sound.

Anh "Joseph" Cao defeated Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson on Saturday in an election delayed for a month by Hurricane Gustav. Cao, a Republican immigration attorney (Go team!) is the first Vietnamese-American to be elected to Congress in this country's 232-year history.

You'd think that would be big news, especially in such a backward and bigoted state. But the national media yawned, and turned their attention to Barack Obama's smoking habits.

So since the New York Times and their usually diversity-conscious brethren aren't interested, let's examine what just happened in the land that, until recently, was only slightly less blue than our neighbor across the Delaware.

Cao will be representing New Orleans, an overwhelmingly black district that hadn't cast its lot with a GOPer since 1890.

In a year in which Democrats made significant gains (but not to the extent some hysterical commentators would have us believe), the GOP son of Vietnamese refugees was able to oust an admittedly pathetic rival. You remember Jefferson, the guy who kept 90K in bribe money chilling in the First Bank of the Freezer?

You might say that anyone with a pulse could have beaten Jefferson. That's possible, but the overwhelming victory registered by Cao was more than just a slap at the Democratic pol. The GOP winner actually brought much to the table.

Born in Vietnam, he was forced to flee his native country at the age of 8 after the fall of Saigon. His father was a South Vietnamese army officer imprisoned for a time by the Communists.

CAO EARNED a degree in philosophy from Fordham and then a law degree from Loyola after moving to Louisiana in 1992. He had planned to be a priest, and still maintains close ties to the Vietnamese Catholic church, a powerful force in his community. He is strongly pro-life, but otherwise describes himself as a "political moderate."

So let's recap. For the first time in more than a century, a Republican takes over a New Orleans district. His backstory is impressive: a refugee from war-torn Vietnam comes to the U.S., learns English, earns two college degrees, sees his home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but stays to rebuild and bucks the old-boy system in a city and a state where patronage is a sacrament.

I'd venture to guess that if Cao were a Democrat, his story would have been front-page news. As it is, I had to search in the B sections of most papers to find out about him, wading past stories of Obama family puppy decisions (they still haven't made one) and polls about Caroline Kennedy's shot at filling Hillary's Senate seat. (Trading a Clinton for a Kennedy, nothing like new blood for the Dems!)

Why is it that when a Republican makes history, no one cares? Well, that's not true. When a conservative does something wrong, like tap-dancing in a restroom stall or making time with congressional pages, the press especially tends to pay attention.

But when a modern-day Horatio Alger bursts on the scene, the klieg lights only bathe him in celebrity if he has a "D" next to his name.

And guess what? That's OK. Anh Cao doesn't need the publicity from the media mainstays who fall all over themselves dissecting Michelle Obama's wardrobe and Hillary's relationship with Bill.

He's got work to do, cleaning up the mess the Democrat left for him. Someone else can do the photo-ops. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. See her on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m. E-mail cflowers1961@yahoo.com.