Monday, November 03, 2008

The North Carolina Red State Myth

As national focus has turned to North Carolina, I've grown increasingly sick of people describing it as a red state. Yes, the dominant political figure on the national scene has been Jesse Helms, a figure once both odious and quixotic, who brought tobacco and Pentagon money to the rural areas of our state in a way that foreshadowed Krugman's analysis of the Red-Blue state divide in terms of per capita federal subsidies. Which is to say that Helms blazed a path in combining incendiary and hateful racist rhetoric with federal "earmarks", if you will, to keep a rural populace in his pocket.

I didn't grow up in that North Carolina. For us the epochal political figure was the Democrat Terry Sanford, a contemporary and peer of JFK, who as governor in the early sixties laid the groundwork for North Carolina to become a state of knowledge work by greenfielding Research Triangle Park, and driving the development of our highly regarded system of community colleges and the University of North Carolina. Later, as President of Duke University, he did fine work to raise that institution into the ranks of national leaders and, more importantly, allowed them to develop into an almost worthy rival for UNC's Tar Heels on the basketball court. He also served in the Senate for a term late in his career, but he was unable to fully emerge from the shadow of our state's bespectacled bete noire.

When people ask me why I'm not a Republican if I'm from North Carolina, I tell I'm not from that North Carolina. I'm from the other one.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with Jesse Helms and would note that he was an affable, charming, intelligent man, who was also a racist. His understanding that the economic well-being of NC's less privileged counties was dependent upon what free-market economists would term "protectionism" and "government-interference" won him more re-election votes than his racist, misogynistic diatribes. It's very ironic that the government pendulum is swinging back into the regulation/government interference direction today. FYI, Terry Sanford was not a great Duke President, he lied to the students about running for Senate and abandoned his promises regarding tuition increases in the final years of his leadership.

Graham Hussein de las Piernas Gordas said...

I never said Sanford was a "great Duke President." That's very close to being a contradiction in terms.

And I have heard others propound the myth of Jesse Helms as the great charming gentleman racist, and I don't buy it (W and Cheney are said by some to be charmers too), though even today I think we're all racists, to some extent (more on that later). Helms was a virulent and nasty racist and, with Charlotte-born Billy Graham, a petri dish of the Christian right. He brought dishonor and shame on the state.

Katherine said...

I'm sorry, perhaps I misunderstand? I believe intelligence and racism can not coexist in one human. The one quite naturally cancels the other, yes?

Us citizens of The Great North State wept with relief when the man died. He was a racist fuck. Period.