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The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: An Analysis Paper

Governor Gardner and Senator Bailey

Write an analysis paper of "The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics". Summarize the chapters, identifying at least 4 key points within each chapter, and discuss how these points support a general argument about the development of North Carolina politics since 1900 to the present.

For direct quotes or paraphrasing, utilize parenthetical citation (Christensen, page number). No other outside sources utilized. No page requirement.

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 nineteenth-century 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, power-company 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 tobacco and cotton fields, the hard pews of fundamentalist churches, and what one astute observer called “a dark and unfathomable abyss of race feeling.” Bailey’s brand of conservatism called for less government, the enforcement of traditional values of morality, and a strict racial line.

North Carolina Politics: Business Progressivism, Conservatism, and Populism

But conservatives and probusiness moderates such as Bailey and Gardner have never been able to rule the state unchallenged. The unfinished Oakwood grave marker the two men mused over belonged to Leonidas Polk, a national Populist leader who set in motion the most powerful pitchfork uprising in the South in the 1890s—one that sent the conservatives and their business allies packing.

North Carolina has always had a strain of cornbread populism—an unwillingness to give Wall Street, the big banks, or the big insurance companies free rein. So North Carolina elected populists such as Marion Butler, Robert Reynolds, and John Edwards to the U.S. Senate and they put Daniel Russell and Kerr Scott in the governor’s mansion.

The strains of business progressivism, conservatism, and populism are often comingled, so that thousands of people voted for both a conservative such as Senator Jesse Helms and a business progressive such as Governor Jim Hunt. Many people’s politics don’t fit into nice little pigeonholes.

National observers are often confounded by North Carolina’s puzzling politics. What kind of state is North Carolina? Was it the state that repeatedly sent Jesse Helms, Josiah Bailey, Sam Ervin, and a parade of other conservatives to Washington, or was it a state that elected a stream of center-left Democrats such as Jim Hunt, John Edwards, and Terry Sanford? North Carolina is, of course, both states, which is why it has been described as a political paradox. It is a state shaped by both fundamentalist churches and great universities, by poor yeomen farmers and industrialists, by an urge to move into the national mainstream and a reverence for the traditions, both good and bad, of the Old South.

Long before it became fashionable to talk about America’s political polarization, North Carolina was a boiling political cauldron. Throughout the
twentieth century, the state frequently oscillated between its progressive impulses and its broad conservative streak, sometimes swinging back and forth in ugly, violent spasms. At its core, North Carolina, like the rest of the South, is conservative leaning. You don’t have to climb very far up most family trees to find a small farmer—surely the most individualistic and self-reliant of souls.

The state is, as former senator Elizabeth Dole noted, the buckle of the Bible Belt, and if one wants to rise in higher office, one must take North Carolinians’ deep religiosity into account. A state bristling with so many military bases, and one where hunting is still a young man’s rite of passage, is bound to respect the uniform. Old attitudes toward race still have a powerful echo.

North Carolina: A Political Paradox

But all that is true of most of the South. What sets North Carolina apart is its progressive streak. The state’s voters are willing to elect liberals who they think will look after the average man—as long as he does not transgress southern racial customs.

North Carolina led the great southern educational revival in the early twentieth century and was often in the forefront of education initiatives in later years. The state pushed through so many reforms and raised so many taxes that it was nicknamed the “Wisconsin of the South” in the 1920s. In 1950 North Carolina was briefly represented in the Senate by the South’s leading liberal, Frank Porter Graham. In the early 1960s, while Alabama’s George Wallace was standing in the schoolhouse door, North Carolina’s Terry Sanford was quietly setting the stage for racial integration. North Carolina was such a leader in the South in higher education, the arts, and economic development that it was labeled the “Dixie Dynamo” in the 1960s.

On the question of race, North Carolina had a southern-rim-state mentality. North Carolina was the only state in the country to elect an African American to Congress between 1898 and 1928. By midcentury, North Carolina was regarded as the least repressive state in the South for blacks. The national sit-in movement began in North Carolina, in part because the state had so many historically black colleges. In the 1990s Harvey Gantt ran the most ompetitive Senate race of any African American in the South in the twentieth century, drawing more votes than President Bill Clinton in the state in 1996.

In 2008, North Carolina was one of three southern states— and arguably the most culturally southern state—to vote for Senator Barack Obama for president. But there were also sharp limits to North Carolina’s progressivism. The Populists of the 1890s were turned out of office in an orgy of intimidation, voter fraud, and violence. The Democrats maintained control through white supremacy that disfranchised black voters. The labor movement was crushed with bullets and billy clubs. Efforts to bring a liberal “New Deal” government to Raleigh were beaten back by powerful machine politics. The state produced some of the leading strategists of segregationist Dixie. In 1950 Frank Graham was defeated in a virulent race and red-baiting campaign. In the 1960s North Carolina had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership in the South. Jesse Helms headed what may have been the South’s most powerful political machine since that of Louisiana governor Huey Long, helping give rise to the Reagan Revolution.

North Carolina's Progressive Streak

For these and other reasons, North Carolina has been home to some of the nation’s roughest political range wars during the past century.
Various observers have attempted to describe North Carolina’s politics. Midcentury political scientists or journalists such as V. O. Key or John Gunther portrayed North Carolina as a progressive garden in a reactionary cotton field. By the 1970s revisionism had set in, with political observers such as Merle Black, William Chafe, and Walter DeVries describing the state as a progressive paradox, arguing that the state’s conservative instincts outweigh its national progressive reputation. A more recent generation of historians, such as Timothy Tyson, David Cecelski, and Glenda Gilmore, have focused on the laten racism and the untold stories of the struggles of African Americans.

Paul Luebke has divided the state into modernists and traditionalists—those like Helms who are tied to conservative churches, tobacco, and long-held values, and modernizers such as Hunt who are connected with big industry and want an active government to nurture economic growth. All of these theories say something true about the state. The story of North Carolina’s politics is nuanced, multilayered, and at times contradictory.

North Carolina history is sometimes presented as a soothing narrative. North Carolina is a politically moderate state, run by reasonable, business-oriented leaders that have worked together to help a poor state pull itself up by its bootstraps. North Carolina, so the narrative goes, has avoided the demagogues of other southern states, such as South Carolina’s Cole Blease, Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, and Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge.

But the truth is far more complicated. North Carolina has taken center stage in the great political debates of the twentieth century—the place of black people in society, the role of organized labor, urban versus rural culture, class antagonisms, industrialism, the role of government in helping the disadvantaged, the national response to fascism and communism, women’s rights, the role of religion in public life, racial quotas, homosexuality, and abortion, to name a few.

This updated second edition includes some of the remarkable events of the first decade of the twenty-first century: the scandal involving former North Carolina senator John Edwards, the election of Bev Perdue as the state’s first woman governor, the controversies surrounding former governor Mike Easley, and the state’s voting for Senator Barack Obama, an African American, for president.

I have written about North Carolina politics for thirty-seven years for the Raleigh News and Observer, the state capital newspaper, and at times I have felt deserving of extra combat pay. I witnessed a district Republican convention that turned into a brawl. I have been denounced by name by Jesse Helms in huge, sweet-smelling tobacco warehouses as an example of what is wrong with America. The state GOP convention once passed a resolution throwing out the News and Observer.

As I was being led out, dozens of people stood on their chairs shaking their fists amid shouts of “Throw the bastard out!” As I left the hall, the presiding officer, Barry McCarty, thundered: “The cancer has been surgically removed.” I once spent a day visiting country stores with Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Green, a mossback Conservative Democrat, who for his amusement would make me sweat while he chronicled my journalistic sins to groups of hard-looking men. But such mistreatment is child’s play compared to what other North Carolinians have experienced over the years.

So, like Max Gardner and Josiah Bailey, let’s wander through North Carolina’s political graveyard to see what we can find.

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