The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina

The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina

The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina

The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events That Shaped Modern North Carolina

Synopsis

How can a state be represented by Jesse Helms and John Edwards at the same time? Journalist Rob Christensen answers that question and navigates a century of political history in North Carolina, one of the most vibrant and competitive southern states, where neither conservatives nor liberals, Democrats nor Republicans, have been able to rest easy. It is this climate of competition and challenge, Christensen argues, that enabled North Carolina to rise from poverty in the nineteenth century to become a leader in research, education, and banking in the twentieth.

Although party divisions and the issues of race that often distinguish them are deeply rooted, Christensen explains, North Carolina voters remain loyal to candidates who focus on issues such as education and building a business-friendly infrastructure. He takes us to picket lines and debates and through numerous red-baiting and race-baiting political campaigns. Along the way we are introduced to many remarkable characters, including a U.S. senator who was a Nazi sympathizer, a candidate for governor who was a Soviet agent, a senator who helped bring down Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, and a TV commentator who helped usher in the Reagan Revolution. Long before the talk of red state-blue state polarization, North Carolina was an intensely divided state politically. With Christensen as a guide, readers may find there is sense after all in the topsy-turvy nature of Tar Heel politics.

Excerpt

One day in the 1930s, Governor O. Max Gardner and U.S. senator Josiah Bailey went for a stroll in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery, the Valhalla for many of North Carolina’s leading political figures. The two men came across the grave of a nineteenthcentury Populist leader. Only the lower part of the monument had been constructed, and Gardner asked why it was never finished.

“Because the money gave out,” Bailey replied. “That is the way life is. One minute a man’s name is on every tongue and all are anxious to do him honor, and then suddenly he is cut down. At first people praise his memory and then in a little while he is forgotten.”

“That,” Gardner said, “is what the erosion of time often does to a man’s fame.”

Gardner and Bailey are barely remembered today, even though they helped shape North Carolina politics in the twentieth century.

Gardner, a high-living textile tycoon, is considered the architect of modern state government and a central figure in the formation of the state’s sensibility regarding politics. Gardner was an advocate of business progressivism, the animating force in twentieth-century Tar Heel politics. Politics was largely controlled by big business. The state lit the cigars for corporate executives but was hostile to organized labor; it generously spent money on roads and universities but was stingy when it came to the poor. State leaders sought a measure of fairness toward its black citizens, as long as it didn’t threaten the system of segregation. It was a business progressivism that was in tune with North Carolina’s growing urban middle class of lawyers, powercompany executives, bankers, textile-plant owners, newspaper publishers and editors, and others.

Bailey, a former editor of the Biblical Recorder, represented a more unvarnished brand of conservatism that grew out of the . . .

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