DAVID BROOKS OBSERVES:
If you went into a lab and tried to create a state that would be perfectly suited for producing successful national politicians, you would create Tennessee. It is southern, which is important because the South is both the largest and the fastest growing region of the country. But it is not too southern. It is rich, and has that huge fundraising base, but it is not culturally elitist, like New York and California. Most important, it is heterodox. If you are going to live in Tennessee and thrive there, you cannot live in an insular cultural enclave, the way Trent Lott can in Mississippi, or the way Nancy Pelosi can in the Bay Area. In Tennessee you have to travel to the eastern part of the state, where they supported the Union, you have to travel to the western part, where they supported the Confederacy, and you have to travel to West Nashville, where they support Cadillac dealerships. If you travel and campaign throughout Tennessee, you are apt to acquire an instinctive feel for how different types of people think and react.
I’ve had some thoughts along these lines myself. Tennessee does seem to produce more than its share of good (or at least successful) politicians, and it is so diverse that it used to call itself “the three states of Tennessee” — and the state constitution still has vestiges of internal federalism, like the requirement that no more than two of the five justices be from the same Grand Division (East, West, or Middle). That probably does tend to winnow (or at least educate) statewide officeholders in a way that a more unitary state wouldn’t. (Not that we don’t still produce world-class losers from time to time).
It probably helps that the media markets are fragmented, too. I wonder if anyone has researched this sort of thing?