The impossible coalition of Southerners and Northern "ethnics" lasted at least from Jackson's run for president in 1824 and still holds today. Both groups were the Democratic Party for a century and a half. Then both turned into Wallace Democrats and then into Reagan Democrats.

With all their differences, they only had two serious splits. In 1924 the Democratic Party was deciding whether to condemn the violently anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan. That gets all the discussion today, but another split was that the Klan and Bible Belters were violently in favor of Prohibition and Northern Catholics were against it.

It took almost a hundred and thirty ballots for them to agree on a candidate. He was John W. Davis, the Governor of West Virginia. He was not at the convention. They also decided not to condemn the Klan by a handful of votes. The Republicans convention, which included the delegation from Indiana which was ruled by the Klan and governed Indianan, went ahead and condemned the Klan and supported Prohibition.

This same John W. Davis was a very Southern Southerner. In fact, thirty years later this same John W. Davis represented the segregationists, including South Carolina, before the Supreme Court in Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka.

So the split went, barely, to the Bible Belt Southern wing in 1924.

By 1928 the Klan was a dead letter. This time the convention nominated an anti-Prohibition Catholic from New York - he used to pose with a glass of beer in his hand, looking at it lovingly. A huge number of Southerners voted for the Republican - calling themselves Democrats for Coolidge or Southern Democrats.

But the amazing thing is that those were the ONLY split in this coalition in what is becoming two centuries of voting together. And it was a split decision, the Bible Belt won in 1924 and the Catholics won in 1928, but the Democratic Party went right on without a bump.

A split like that would have ripped any other coalition to shreds. It is hardly noticed today and it was not remembered when it blew the political landscape to hell and back in 1980 and 1994.

It is noticing things like this that made my career in politics.

Contrary to the Ellis Island mythology, Catholics did not just come onto the American shore yesterday. They were a potent force for Andrew Jackson. And the waves of Poles and Italians who came over here a century ago went into ethnic neighborhoods and followed the politics already set down by the Jacksonian Irish.

They no sooner got here than they were entrenched in an old American way of thinking.

It warmed my black little heart when I was sitting in an anti-busing headquarters and someone said, "Well, we've always hated Yankees..." The man who said that had never been south of New York City. The Yankees he was referring to were the ones the theologian Novak had lied and called WASPs.

Another incident in Boston actually embarrassed me, and I am not easily embarrassed. We were talking about our origins, as Southerners and Irishmen will. I talked about the only person in my family tree who did something historic, the Reverend Alexander Whitaker who converted and baptized Pocahontas and wrote the first book in English written in America, which is on the Internet in its entirely, Whitaker's Goode Newes from Virginia.

The point of the story to me is that while historians insist that the Pilgrims founded English America, Reverend Whitaker converted and baptized Pocahontas, married her to John Rolphe, wrote that book and DIED before the Pilgrims got here.

The Southies were thunderstruck. Honestly, you would have thought I had pulled out papers proving I was heir to a Dukedom. It was embarrassing, as if I had tried to trump them totally about my ancestry. It took me a while to catch on.

You see, these people had always been spoken of as if they just came off the boat. The people doing the speaking were the Lowells who speak only to the Cabots, and the Cabots who speak only to God, in short the Yankee descendants of the Pilgrims.

Down South almost all our ancestors were here before 1700, so there was nothing special about mine. But these people had no idea that ANY white person came here before the Pilgrims, and that was a BIG thing in New England.

A Dukedom would have impressed them less.

Can you imagine Americans whose families have been here for a hundred and fifty years actually being put down, and accepting it, by a bunch descended from a group that got lost on its way to Virginia?

The Pilgrims came to Boston earlier, but they had become Europeans. I had come up to join the people around me because they had become my fellow white Americans long since.

Gimme an Irishman behind the bar before a Yankee behind a Harvard lectern any day of the week.