Paul Greenberg

You may not think of Delaware as a Southern state but Joe Biden, its senior senator, has just redrawn the Mason-Dixon line. The way he describes Delaware, it sounds almost Southern. Why would he want to do that?

Maybe because he's one of the many presidential contenders and pretenders already lining up at the gate two years before Aught-Eight. And there are all those Southern presidential primaries to think about.

Asked how he would do down South against rivals from there, Joe (Bubba) Biden explained that actually he comes from (ITALICS) up (END ITALICS) South: "My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest black population in the country." And old times there are not forgotten.

For a Democrat with presidential aspirations, to abandon the South would be the equivalent of abandoning all hope. The last three successful Democratic candidates for president - Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson - were from the South, if you make allowances and consider Texas a Southern state rather than an empire and anomaly all its own.

Sen. Biden's conversion to Southernness brings to mind a politician I used to know in Pine Bluff, Ark., which is a very Southern town indeed, who had the misfortune of being born in Illinois or Indiana or one of those Frost Belt states, and therefore felt the need to declare himself as Southern as his rival, if not more so. So he explained: "Just 'cause a cat has her kittens in the stove don't make 'em biscuits."

I forget whether said politico won or lost his race, but the line is worth remembering for any yankee trying to identify with the natives in these latitudes. It has the ring of both the Southern patois and universal folk wisdom or, as we say in these parts, mother wit.

By the time Oh-Eight rolls around, Sen. Biden could be dusting off his great-grandpappy's Confederate uniform, lengthening his vowels, laying on the Y'alls thick as molasses, and generally playing Old South to beat the band.

O Times, O Mores! There was a misbegotten era when upwardly mobile Southerners who wanted to get anywhere in national politics - or in business or radio or almost any other field - were seriously advised to get rid of their accent. Now the Southern lilt is chic, as in Dixie Chicks and country music on urban radio. So some Northerners are working hard to acquire a Southern background even if they have to invent one.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.