Paul Greenberg

Not only is Delaware no longer a Northeastern state in "Biden's Official Atlas and Political Manual," but don't call Delaware liberal, either. To quote the senator: "My state is anything (but) a Northeast liberal state." Northeast Liberal State are apparently fightin' words these neo-conservative days, and the senator is quick to disown them, at least when campaigning in a southerly direction.

There's only one thing missing from the senator's new identity as a stalwart Son of the South: A true Southerner never proclaims himself one. Or needs to. He leaves that sort of thing to the embarrassing breed known as professional Southerners.

Whether he's a yankee or Southerner or something in between, whether borrowing somebody else's words or some other region's identity, Joe Biden remains Joe Biden. That is, someone who has a tendency to make others squirm. The more he talks, the more uncomfortable he makes his listeners. Maybe because he seems to have this unfortunate desire to be more chummy with folks than they might want to be with him. And now, it seems, he wants to be One of Us down here.

The senator might prove more popular in these latitudes if he just stayed himself, whatever that is. Look at how welcome Rudy Giuliani is in these parts, even though you can hear New York, in his every word.

The thing about Southerners - well, one of the many things about Southerners - is that we'd prefer folks to be what they are, and be comfortable in their own skin instead of molting regularly in accordance with political necessity.

The hardest thing in the world for politicians to do is just to be who they are. And it's not so easy for the rest of us, either. Some of the more pitiable among us tend to think of the self as a fungible commodity. All the fake alter egos that tempt us can be so distracting we may never find ourselves. Call it the Chameleon Syndrome. Its victims change personas as regularly as most people do shoes. And sometimes, especially when fashion takes precedence over comfort, the choices made can be painful.

Before the next presidential election, it's liable to get mighty crowded in the Southern Lineage Dept. It wouldn't surprise if, by the time of the Southern primaries, Hillary Clinton nee Rodham, who quietly dropped her maiden name here in Arkansas when it became a political burden, emerges as a demure Southern belle.

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.