I�M THE A--HOLE? At the lobby at the Washington Hilton at the DNC winter meetings, I headed over to a conversation between political columnist Roger Simon and former DNC Chairman Don Fowler of South Carolina. (Not to be confused with Donnie Fowler, his son, who ran for DNC chair in 2004.) I had come over to say hello to Fowler, whom I interviewed a year ago December in Columbia at a South Carolina Democratic Party Dinner.

By pure chance, Fowler was explaining how the Deep South states are fundamentally different from the Outer South states and, consequently, that a Democrat could win the latter in 2008. He started to say, �There�s some book out there saying we can�t do this�� at which point I interjected, �You mean Whistling Past Dixie?� Yes, he said, so I politely introduced myself as the author. Then Big Don lost it.

Looming over me with his long finger pointing at my chest, he called me an �asshole� several times, including �f�ing asshole� at least once. I could hardly get a word in edgewise, especially after my bete noire, Mudcat Saunders, joined in to let Fowler know that he (Saunders) had told me to kiss his rebel ass once. (Apparently, that�s now Mudcat�s claim to fame.)

Fowler�s sole point -- he repeated it again and again -- is that Democrats have no majorities without the South and no Democrat has ever won the White House without carrying a southern state. I didn�t deny that, because it�s true -- if barely so. I tried to point out that Al Gore (New Hampshire) and John Kerry (Ohio) came one state away from doing so. He then claimed that Jim Webb was the decisive victory to give Democrats their Senate majority, as if the other six seats they won in 2006 contributed nothing to that majority. I asked: �If Judd Buechler sinks two free throws in the middle of the second quarter in a game in which Michael Jordan drops 45 points in a 1-point Bulls victory, I suppose you could say Buechler�s free throws were �decisive,� but would it be fair to characterize it that way?� (The facts: The South accounts for just 5 of 28 Democratic governors, just 5 of 51 senators and, if you justifiably include black and Hispanic southern Democrats aside, Nancy Pelosi is about 20 House seats short of majority without a single white southern Democrat. Not to mention that 17 of the 18 state legislative chambers the Democrats converted in 2004 and 2006 were outside the South.)

It�s driving people like Fowler and Saunders bananas that they cannot hold the party hostage any longer. They love to talk about how big the South is, but they never talk about how few seats the South contributes to the Democrats� majorities, which arrived at the very moment their region's contribution is declining. They still think Buechler is the key to the team. And they believe that because something has never happened, it therefore never can happen in the future. Quite simply, they seem afraid of change, particularly any change that reduces their significance nationally. The truth is that The Donnie and Mudcat Show is becoming pass�. And, man, are they steaming about it.

--Tom Schaller