Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities

Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities

Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities

Tar Heel Politics: Myths and Realities

Excerpt

North Carolina has a reputation as a progressive state. This is true, within limits. The most powerful political forces in North Carolina today represent two economic elites with differing interests. One group, the modernizers, consists of bankers, developers, retail merchants, the news media, and other representatives of the business community who expect to benefit from change and growth. The second group, the traditionalists, includes traditional industrialists (in textiles, furniture, and apparel), tobacco farmers, and others associated with the state's agricultural economy who feel threatened by change and growth. Each group, modernizers and traditionalists, is linked with politicians who represent their interests.

Any progress felt by middle- and low-income North Carolinians has tended to trickle down from actions that modernizers have taken in pursuing their own interests. The political scene has changed substantially since World War II, primarily with respect to the major roles that blacks and Republicans now play compared to four decades ago. Nevertheless, North Carolina remains what V. O. Key called it in his classic book, Southern Politics (1949), a "progressive plutocracy." This is the reality of Tar Heel politics.

Two myths stand out about North Carolina politics. The first affords to modernizers a status of "would-be liberalism." That is to say, a Terry Sanford or a Jim Hunt would take more liberal stands, especially on tax reform, education, and public transportation, if only the Tar Heel electorate would allow it. According to this myth, a more egalitarian public policy to assist the less affluent majority is stymied by conservative voters. The reality is that Sanford and Hunt are modernizers, who shape and reflect the dominant ideology of today's North Carolina Democrats. Democrats like Sanford and Hunt have deliberately chosen the moderate-to-conservative, trickle-down path that for the most part is followed year-in and year-out by their fellow Democrats in the General Assembly.

The second myth, with two variations, concerns Jesse Helms. The National Congressional Club version of this myth characterizes "Uncle Jesse" as the defender of a down-home traditionalism that represents the views of most Tar Heels. This traditionalism would have men at . . .

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