Thursday, March 13, 2008


I suppose I should drop the subject now that Geraldine Ferraro has left the Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton has offered apologies, but I just want to point out that our last Democratic president undeniably was the beneficiary of an accident of birth -- he was a Southerner.

No one can actually point to evidence that African-Americans routinely have a leg up in American presidential elections, or even in Democratic presidential primaries. But it was certainly an article of faith in 1992 that Bill Clinton had a shot at the presidency not because he was a smart, charismatic young Democratic governor of a small state, but because he was a smart, charismatic young Democratic governor of a Southern state. Super Tuesday, at the time, was essentially a Southern regional primary -- and Clinton won a lot of contests that day. And it was generally understood even by us Northerners that Clinton had a better shot at winning the general election than he would have if he'd been, say, Bill Clintonetti from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, or Bill O'Clinton from South Boston. After all, only one Northerner had been elected president since 1944 -- and that's still true today.

I'm looking for evidence that something similar is going on right now regarding Obama, and I'm struggling to find it. I'm looking for evidence that African-Americans win elections, or even Democratic primaries, for state and local races all out of proportion to their share of the electorate. I'm looking for all the black Democratic officeholders and candidates in majority-white districts in, say, Iowa or Wyoming or Wisconsin. I can't find them.

But Southerners really have had an advantage in presidential races -- we'll break the streak this year, but between 1964 and 2004 every president we elected was from either the South or California. If Bill Clinton hadn't said "y'all," it seems clear that he wouldn't have been one of them.

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