The “New South” Reverts to the Old South

By William K. Black
April 12, 2016     Bloomington, MN

The rise of the “New South” is generally dated to around 1970, when socially and economically conservative white Democratic politicians who were moderate on racial issues began to be elected as governors in many Southern states.  The timing was just right in that, due to hatred for the Republican Party’s role in stopping the spread of slavery and then winning the Civil War, that Party was still anathema to many Southern whites.  The Republican Party’s “Southern strategy” would soon reverse this process and lead to that party’s modern domination of the South.  Today, the New South is rapidly reverting back to the pathologies of the Old South.  This first column looks at North Carolina as an example of this reversion.  The second column discusses the most recent manifestation of disinterring the bigotry that defined the Old South – the atavistic assault on the LGBT community.

Of the eleven states that seceded from the Union, only Louisiana and Virginia have Democratic governors.  Louisiana’s election of a Democratic governor is largely the product of just how bad a governor Bobby Jindal was.  Virginia is two states politically.  The suburbs of Washington, D.C. are largely progressive and strongly Democratic.  More rural portions of the state are conservative and strongly Republican.  The Republican domination of the disinterred Old South is extraordinary.  They hold a majority, typically a super-majority, in every legislative chamber.  In the table below I use “S” and “H” as generic terms for the upper (Senate) and lower (House) chambers.  I provide the ratio of that majority – Republican:Democrat.

Alabama:       Republican governor.  >3X (S) and >2X (H) domination of legislature

Arkansas:      Republican governor.  >2X (S) and nearly 2X (H) legislature

Florida:          Republican governor.  Nearly 2X (S) and >2X (H) legislature

Georgia:         Republican governor.  >2X (S) and nearly 2X (H) legislature

Louisiana:      Democratic governor.  1.8X (S) and 1.5X (H) legislature

Mississippi:    Republican governor.  1.5X (S) and 1.5X (H) legislature

N. Carolina: Republican governor. >2X (S) and >1.5X (H) legislature

S. Carolina: Republican governor.  1.5X (S) and >1.5X (H) legislature

Tennessee:     Republican governor.  >5X (S) and 2.8X (H) legislature

Texas:             Republican governor.  Nearly 2X (S) and 2X (H) legislature

Virginia:         Democratic governor.  Modest R majority (S) and nearly 2X (H)


There has been enormous change in many aspects of the states that joined the Confederacy.  The political “New South” ballyhooed by the media in the 1970s, however, was swept away by the success of the Republican Party’s “Southern strategy.”  The principal importance today is that the Democratic politicians that led the rise of the “New South” also formed and led the “New Democrats” that transformed their Party by pushing it strongly to the right on economic, worker, budgetary, and national security issues.  Tom Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal explains how fundamentally they changed their Party at the national level.  The irony is that even as the New Democrats were being wiped out in their base (the South) they triumphed nationally and came to dominate their Party.

This column, however, is about where the Republicans are going now that they dominate the South using North Carolina as the example.  North Carolina voted in favor of Barrack Obama in 2008.  The professional elites in states like North Carolina look overwhelmingly to the future and see that future as the “Research Triangle.”  High quality education, research by leading academics and their counterparts at NGOs and at private firms, and active government support for these partnerships are the path that North Carolina’s professional elites see as essential.  Imagine their horror, therefore, when the Republican leaders of the State decided to disinter the defining characteristics of the Old South – bigotry as a tactic to divide and conquer the non-wealthy in order to enrich a small upper crust.

North Carolina Republicans Disinter the Old South

The Tea Party in North Carolina is the newest variant of this ancient theme and paramount tactic of the Old South.  This election season is filled with media shock at how open, bigoted, and extreme the views are of Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.  The implication is that they are in erratic orbits vastly outside the plane of the ecliptic for their party.  Surely, in a place like North Carolina with the Research Triangle the Republican Party rejects all such bigotry.  Pat McCrory, its Republican Governor, was the subject of a sympathetic Wall Street Journal profile.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who calls himself an “Eisenhower Republican,” has been promoting a potential $2.8 billion bond package to fund highways and infrastructure improvements. It comes as the governor tries to hone a centrist image ahead of what figures to be a tight re-election race next year, when the White House race likely will boost the turnout of Democrats and independents.

Medicine is a big deal in the Research Triangle.

Take two of the world’s top university teaching and research hospitals (Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill), scores of medical and specialty centers, and a region teaming with industry-leading physicians, biomedical scientists, engineers and visionaries and you’ve got a prescription for advances that are changing the face of medical care.

This is what makes North Carolina so scary.  From this seemingly non-fertile ground for nostalgia for the Old South’s folkways has emerged a bumper crop of State Republicans racing to return to the Old South’s radical roots.

  • North Carolina Republicans have blocked Medicaid expansion.

Among the states of the former Confederacy, only Louisiana has approved the full Medicaid expansion, with Arkansas providing an alternative expansion.  The South has the greatest proportion of people who would benefit from Medicaid expansion and expansion would cost the states a pittance, so the refusal to expand Medicaid demonstrates the return of the Old South’s hostility and indifference towards poorer citizens.

  • North Carolina adopted what was considered the most stringent voter suppression law in the Nation.
  • Redistricting to ensure Republican dominance

On July 27, 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly approved congressional and state legislative redistricting plans. The Almanac of American Politics described the congressional map as follows:[25]

[Republicans] painstakingly packed Democratic voters into just three of the state’s 13 seats: an African-American majority 1st District covering parts of rural northeastern counties and heavily black neighborhoods in Durham, an almost comically liberal 4th District tying via tentacles the academic haven of Chapel Hill to black neighborhoods in Raleigh and faraway Fayetteville, and an even more tightly packed African-American majority 12th District knifing along the I-85 corridor from Charlotte to Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Republicans drew the other 10 seats at least 10 percentage points more Republican than the national average.[6]—The Almanac of American Politics

These plans were granted preclearance by the United States Department of Justice on November 1, 2011. The legislature made technical corrections to the new congressional and state legislative district maps on November 7, 2011. The U.S. Department of Justice precleared the amended maps on December 8, 2011.[26]

Following the 2012 election, the first to take place under the new maps, Democrats won only four of the state’s 13 congressional seats, even though they “won a majority of the state’s votes in House races.”[2

  • The same Wall Street Journal story that praised Governor McCrory went on to explain that the Tea Party has captured the Republican Party in North Carolina and the “Eisenhower Republican” is being pushed hard to the right by his Party.

Delegates applauded Mr. McCrory but hours later elected a chairman with tea-party and libertarian backing, not the candidate backed by the governor and other top elected Republicans.

Since it cast its vote for Barack Obama for president in 2008, North Carolina has shifted sharply to the Republican side, with the GOP dominating the state’s congressional delegation and both houses of the legislature. Resulting control of the redistricting process has produced ever-safer GOP districts, according to Chris Sinclair, a political consultant who has worked for Mr. McCrory.

But the state’s fast population growth—it’s now the ninth-largest—is being fueled by younger and urban voters, with so-called millennials on track to outnumber baby boomer voters in the state by 2016, Mr. Sinclair said.

“You can’t run statewide as an ultra-right-wing conservative,” Mr. Sinclair said. Four years after Mr. Obama won the state with 49.7% of the vote, Mitt Romney won with 50.4% in 2012.

“We have a certain part of our caucus, the more rural folks like myself, our roots are deep in social issues and we bring those things forward,” state House Majority Leader Mike Hager said.

A little analysis is in order of the statements of Sinclair and Hager.  A Republican who wants to become the governor of North Carolina has to win his party’s primary – and the primary process is dominated by the Tea Party.  This dynamic is even more powerful for many Republican legislators, which is why the legislature rejected Governor McCrory’s preferred state party leader and chose the Tea Party’s favorite.  The example below illustrates the fact that the Republican dominance of the legislature is so complete that the Tea Party can override the governor’s veto.

  • North Carolina Republicans, overriding McCrory’s veto, have passed an “AG-Gag” law that makes it unlawful to blow the whistle on agricultural firms that commit crimes. (Similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in other states).

The Charlotte Observer explained, in an opinion piece entitled “N.C. ‘ag-gag’ bill is an attempt to protect criminals,” xdthat two incidents prompted the North Carolina Republicans to act.

Early last year a video came to light showing chickens being buried alive by employees at a factory farm in Harnett County. The birds were left to die from starvation, dehydration or suffocation. A truly miserable end to their abbreviated lives.

And in recent years, three investigations into Butterball-owned facilities in North Carolina uncovered baby chicks being ground up alive and workers kicking, stomping on, dragging and throwing turkeys, among other abuses.

[R]ather than work in good faith to improve its sordid track record of animal cruelty, the North Carolina Poultry Federation has doubled down to hide these cruelties from the public. They’ve schemed to get an anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill introduced in the legislature which would prevent employees from documenting and exposing cases of animal abuse and food safety violations on factory farms.

In the past few years, the meat, egg, and dairy industries have collaborated with their allies to introduce ag-gag bills in more than a dozen other states. While these bills sometimes take different forms, they’re all designed to silence whistleblowers, and in one way or another, make it illegal to videotape and expose cruelty to farm animals.

The focus on the Old South, understandably and properly, has been on its treatment of blacks, the principal victims.  But the goal of the Old South leaders was always to run the state as a plantation for the benefit of a small group of the wealthy.  This upper crust could commit crimes and act of immorality with impunity because it had dominant economic and political power.  Blacks, and indirectly, poorer whites were the victims of the oligarchs.  Ag-Gag is a perfect example of the Tea Party being coopted by wealthy elites to harm their own interests – and feel good about doing so.  As the Charlotte Observer went on to say:  “World-renowned animal scientist and adviser to the meat industry, Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, states that “ag-gag bills are the stupidest thing that ag ever did.”

Black people in North Carolina have taken the lead in rallying a multi-racial coalition of progressives to take part in “Moral Mondays” protests against the return of the Old South.  The Reverend William Barber’s marches garnered considerable publicity and led to similar campaigns in several other states reverting to the Old South.  But no American will be surprised that it was the radical Republican assault by in North Carolina on other groups, in this case, the LGBT community, that galvanized national attention to what was happening to North Carolina.   I explain in part two why the Old South’s attacks on the LGBT community led many corporate officials, NGOs, and entertainers to take on North Carolina’s Republican Tea Party leadership.  No progressive will be surprised that McCrory, the self-described “Eisenhower Republican,” ultimately chose bigotry and the Tea Party over “moderation” when it came to the LGBT community.  Conservatives are dismayed that Rev. Barber has strongly supported the LGBT community.

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