Cover image for Democracy heading South : national politics in the shadow of Dixie
Democracy heading South : national politics in the shadow of Dixie
Cochran, Augustus B., 1946-
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Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, [2001]

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x, 307 pages ; 24 cm
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E839.5 .C635 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In a time when many citizens feel that American politics has changed in disturbing ways, Gus Cochran believes that democracy itself may be heading South. And that, he argues, spells trouble for us all.

In this provocative book, Cochran links regional to national politics to show how our political institutions have come to resemble those of the old Solid South. The regional politics of that earlier era, he reminds us, offered little real political choice, was dominated by one-party politics, answered to well-heeled special interests, stoutly resisted federal power, ignored the region's festering racism, and promoted demagoguery and personality over substance and true accountability. For Cochran, the sense of deja vu is overwhelming--and alarming.

Deftly balancing history and political critique, Cochran describes the origins and traits of the Solidly Democratic Southern political system from the turn of the century through the 1960s and its transformation in the wake of that turbulent decade. The South, he shows, eventually modernized and became more integrated, even as the New Deal unraveled and the North became more racially polarized. As the region's shifting fortunes evolved, national politics witnessed a backlash to the civil rights movement (the original engine of political change) that turned the New South into a presidential power broker and spurred a Republican party renaissance nationwide.

Cochran maintains that national politics today offers an array of disturbing parallels with old-style Southern politics. He notes that even the controversial Clinton impeachment-in which many of the major actors were Southern-evokes the "down-and-dirty" politics of old Dixie. Even so, he doesn't push the analogies between south and nation too far. He recognizes significant differences as well as parallels but argues that recent trends toward convergence deserve a close and critical look.

In the end, Cochran's warning shot raises critical questions about the future direction of American democracy, while suggesting potential correctives through campaign finance reform, better inducements to voter participation, and more effective means for informing the electorate. Eloquently argued, his book is also a call to action--before American democracy heads south for good.

Author Notes

Augustus B. Cochran III, a lifelong Southerner, was born in Athens, Georgia, received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is a professor of political science at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. He also has a law degree and is associated with a labor law firm in Atlanta

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Cochran, an attorney and political scientist and a Georgia native who now teaches at Agnes Scott College in that state, argues that U.S. politics increasingly resembles the politics of the pre-civil-rights "solid" South, and that's not good for democracy. It's not the birthplaces of current leaders or their political values that concern Cochran. He's more interested in our movement toward the "solid" South political structures classically described by V. O. Key: "lack of meaningful party competition, low levels of popular participation, and an emphasis on racial conflict to the detriment of economic issues." Cochran describes the system that dominated southern politics into the 1960s, discusses the "convergence" of national and southern politics over recent decades, and then analyzes the consequences of this convergence for government's ability to solve national problems. A final chapter draws a parallel between the nation's efforts to adjust to globalization and the South's "traumatic transition from an agricultural to an industrial and urban society" and suggests political reforms that could move national political structures away from "Dixification" and toward participation and accountability. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cochran, a native Georgian labor lawyer and professor of political science at Agnes Scott College, uses V.O. Key's 1949 classic, Southern Politics, as a blueprint for analyzing fundamental structural pathologies in contemporary American politics, which he does with chilling clarity. "Key argued that because Southern politics lacked strong, responsive parties, was based on a narrow electorate, and was designed to perpetuate white supremacy, Southern electoral institutions lacked the coherence, continuity, and accountability that could make Southern politics rational and democratic." Just as this politics hobbled the South's ability to become an industrial democracy, Cochran argues, its contemporary structural twin is crippling America's ability to become a postindustrial democracy, with policies shaping global market forces to serve the common good. "Specifically, the maladies of the Solid South included elections that ignored or blurred issues; weak, elitist and even demagogic leaders; a proclivity to avoid problems and coast along with the status quo; rampant corruption and policymaking by deals; voters who were confused and apathetic; an appallingly narrow electoral base, including low turnout among even those lucky enough to be enfranchised; a resulting tilt toward the elites, while the have-not majority got taken for a ride." Explaining this list's familiar ring, Cochran fuses insights from an impressive range of fields, tracing the interaction of money in politics with historical processes of party realignment and carefully nuanced racial politics to produce a poorly aligned national two-party system that bears many one-party characteristics. Attentive to differences as well as similarities between the Old South and American politics today, Cochran's argument is subtle yet sweeping, profound yet almost self-evident once his powerfully coherent picture is completed. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Cochran (Agnes Scott College) suggests that the future of American democracy and the continuation of sound governance might be in peril. Why? Because national politics and southern politics are becoming aligned in such a way that national politics is beginning to take on some of the political traits of politics in the old South. Three of the more troubling political characteristics of the Solid South--weak political parties, low participation, and racism--are now characteristics of national politics. The two major political parties, while effective as organizations, do not represent the popular will very well. Participation in the form of voting has dropped to all-time lows. Racism, while not as overt as it once was, lies just below the surface of many of the social issues and "cultural wars" that currently rage. Cochran suggests that these traits, so prevalent in the Solid South, are potentially destructive to American democracy. The author makes no claims that his is a value-free study. This book is appropriate for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, and professionals interested in southern politics and its influences on national politics. Q. Kidd Christopher Newport University



Chapter One Dixie Déjà Vu Southern Politics All Over Again The Bottom Rail on Top " For over four decades now, since John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, everyone elected President of the United States has been a Southerner ." True or false?     If this statement appeared on an SAT-type objective test, the obviously correct answer would be "false." But in the complex real world of politics, where truth is rarely short-answer simple, the statement captures an often overlooked shift of power in American politics in recent decades.     From 1960 to 2000, only Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) from Georgia and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) from Arkansas were unambiguously Southern. Both Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) and George Bush (1989-1993) were from Texas. The most clearly non-Southern president of the era, Gerald Ford (1974-1977) of Michigan, was not in fact elected but succeeded to the presidency in the wake of Watergate (okay, trick question).     That leaves Richard Nixon (1969-1974) and Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), both Californians (from southern California, no less). A prototypically Sun Belt state, California could be defined as "Southern," but that rigs the definition. Besides, there is a more important sense in which these two Republican presidents were Southern. Nixon began, and Reagan accomplished, a fundamental reorientation that reversed many of the old verities of American politics. Nixon pursued a conscious "Southern strategy" in winning the presidency twice and in loosening the Democrats' grip on the federal government. Reagan, although he did not openly talk of an explicitly Southern strategy, launched his 1980 campaign for the White House from Philadelphia, Mississippi, best known as the site of the murders of three civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer of 1964. There, candidate Reagan affirmed, "I believe in states' rights," a slogan long identified with Southern resistance to federal civil rights initiatives. Once in office, the Reagan administration redirected policy in ways Nixon could only dream of, erecting a framework of budget deficits and conservative attitudes that still constrains policy options today. These two conservative California Republicans turned the nation's politics sharply to the right--and to the South.     For over a hundred years after the Civil War, it was taken for granted that Southerners were precluded from holding the office of president, although they held positions of entrenched if less visible power in Congress. Events since the 1960s have repealed this axiom of American politics, but by the mid-1990s, this truism was only one of many that had been turned topsy-turvy. In a political system that observers had long judged to be one of the world's most stable, today's political climate is in turmoil: the tried-and-true rules of American politics no longer apply, and the conventional wisdom serves as an unreliable guide to current realities.     One political commonplace that may now be relegated to a bygone era is the Republican "lock" on the electoral college and thus the White House. For several decades, Democrats seemed to have lost the near monopoly on the presidency they enjoyed during the New Deal era. In the post-1960s political order, the norm was Republican presidents, although Democrats retained majority control of Congress. Democrat Jimmy Carter's rejection by the voters after an agonizing single term only confirmed this pattern.     Yet by the late 1990s, a Democrat presided over the executive branch for only the second time in three decades. More amazingly, Bill Clinton managed to win reelection despite disastrously low initial approval ratings based on his early performance, when he enjoyed Democratic majorities in Congress. After the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress, Clinton faced almost unanimous predictions that he too, like Carter, was destined for an early exile after an undistinguished one-term presidency. Yet he coasted to an easy victory in 1996, but without carrying congressional Democrats with him. Despite suffering the ignominy of being the only elected president to be impeached, the "Comeback Kid" rebounded to avoid conviction on the charges and to exact electoral revenge on his tormentors in the 1998 midterm elections.     An even more unforeseen shock, however, occurred on Capitol Hill, where the "earthquake" election of 1994 cracked Democratic control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. Although some pundits read the Republican Revolution of 1994 as a fluke reaction against the temporarily unpopular Clinton, neither the standoff 1996 congressional elections nor the relative retrenchment of the 1998 midterm elections dislodged the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. After a generation of expecting Republican presidents to face Democratic Congresses, the pattern had been stood on its head in the mid-1990s; a Democratic president confronted Republican congressional majorities for the first time since the anomalous Republican Congress that Democratic president Harry Truman "gave hell" in 1947-1949. Southern Coup? Less noted is the fact that by the 1990s, Southerners, long excluded from national leadership, dominated both the executive and legislative branches of government as well as both parties. Not only was President Clinton a former Arkansas governor, but his vice-president and heir apparent, Al Gore, was a former senator from Tennessee. While the "Bubba Brothers" dominated the Democratic party, the Republican party in Congress was also under the sway of Southerners. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the polarizing leader of the 1994 Republican Revolution, represented the north Atlanta suburbs. Several of his chief lieutenants hailed from similar terrain in Texas. Dick Armey, the Republican majority leader, represented suburban Houston, while Republican whip Tom Delay's district was suburban Dallas. When Gingrich's reign as Speaker ended abruptly in the aftermath of his party's disappointing showing in the 1998 midterm elections, House Republicans elected Robert Livingston of Louisiana as their leader. Speaker-elect Livingston had to step aside because of revelations of marital infidelity, and Dennis Hastert, who followed him, is from Illinois. However, many party and committee leadership slots remain staffed with Southerners. In fact, purveyors of Washington political gossip often designate Delay as the real power behind the throne in the House.     On the Senate side, the leader of the majority Republicans was Trent Lott of Mississippi, who defeated Mississippi's other senator, Thad Cochran, for the post. Southerners have historically played leading roles in the Senate, but in the 1990s, they were Republicans rather than Democrats. Connie Mack of Florida chaired the Senate Republican Conference, and Paul Coverdell of Georgia was its secretary. GOP committee chairs included Jesse Helms of North Carolina, chair of Foreign Relations, and Strom Thurmond, chair of the Judiciary Committee as well as president pro tempore of the Senate. From the other side of the aisle, in a remarkable instance of reverse carpetbagging, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a foray into the North after New York's seat in the U.S. Senate.     A continuation of Southern political leadership was ensured by the nomination stage of the 2000 election, regardless of whether the electorate voted for partisan continuity or for change. Vice-President Al Gore inherited the status of the anointed nominee-designate by virtue of his service in the Clinton administration. For a time, tentative candidacies by previous presidential aspirant Lamar Alexander, former governor of Tennessee, and first-term Tennessee senator Fred Thompson raised the possibility that the 2000 presidential contest could have been an all-Tennessee affair. The most innovative candidacy featured the first serious campaign for the presidency by a woman, Elizabeth Dole. She is a North Carolinian, perhaps somewhat of a surprise, since the South is reputedly the most traditional region of the country. Although he proved not to be the expected consensus candidate, the almost foreordained Republican nominee was George W. Bush, Jr., son of the former president and governor of Texas. The resulting presidential matchup featuring "Li'l Bubba" Gore and George "Dubya Junior" Bush virtually guarantees a Southerner residing in the White House well into the twenty-first century. Déjà Vu All Over Again Not only was the nation's leadership the most heavily Southern in its origins since the Civil War, but policies since the 1960s also began to assume a distinctly "Southern" cast, with some unanticipated twists to confound settled expectations. This development may not be surprising, given the number of Southerners in policy-making positions by the mid-1900s. Yet many of the policy currents had begun to flow earlier, and there were deeper forces, with sources dating from a previous period of Southern history, seething beneath the surface of these changing policy tides.     Most remarkable was the end of the Second Reconstruction in civil rights and the backlash against women's progress made in the 1960s and 1970s. While reversals in affirmative action received most of the media attention, gains for African Americans were rolled back on a number of fronts, including voting rights, income equality, job training, and housing. The Harvard Project on School Desegregation reported with some alarm that the nation's schools were returning to the extremely segregated status that had characterized Southern and border state schools before Brown v. Board of Education (1954) outlawed school segregation. Not only had most Northern and Western states escaped the more stringent court-imposed remedies for segregation, but Southern schools, which had achieved a significant measure of desegregation under the vigorous enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the sweeping Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s, were now reverting to segregation as well. After the reluctance of five Republican administrations to back energetic enforcement of civil rights laws, courts dominated by Republican appointees were now willing to countenance this regression under the guise of declaring districts to be "unitary," having removed the vestiges of past discrimination. Gary Orfield, the nation's leading expert on school desegregation, wrote that the arguments and assumptions about resegregation made by courts and political leaders in the 1990s bore a strange resemblance to the 1890s in the wake of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision validating "separate but equal" policies. Orfield suggested that the whole nation was living in an era not unlike the South in the period between Plessy (1896) and Brown (1954). These two landmark court decisions, incidentally, make convenient bookends for dating the period of the traditional Solid South.     Other policies sponsored by the Clinton administration seemed more "Southern" than traditionally Democratic. Welfare reform, which the president promised would end "welfare as we know it," was passed through Republican initiative and with presidential approval over the loud objections of liberal Democrats in both Congress and the administration. Trade policies, too, pitted a Democratic president in alliance with Southern Democrats and Republicans in Congress against the core of the traditional New Deal Democrats, Northeast liberals and labor. The administration's premier urban program, "empowerment zones," differed little from the standard Republican elixir for urban ills, "enterprise zones." And the president's anticrime initiatives had distinctly Republican overtones (100,000 more police on the streets) mixed with more liberal elements (gun control and "midnight basketball" community programs).     Prisons, in fact, attained the status of a major growth industry during the 1990s. The cost of building jails averaged $7 billion annually in the decade, and the yearly bill for keeping prisoners incarcerated amounted to $35 billion. The prison industry employed more than 523,000 people, including 350,000 guards, in addition to the 600,000 police and estimated 1.5 million private security guards in the nation. By the year 2000, human rights groups were claiming that the country's prison population had topped the 2 million mark, meaning that more Americans were imprisoned on a per capita basis than in any other nation. With only 5 percent of the world's population, the United States housed 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Although the phenomenal expansion of prisons surely had its roots in earlier law-and-order administrations, the rate of growth under a Democratic administration was remarkable: the incarceration rate rose from 1 in every 217 residents in 1990 to 1 in every 149 in 1998. Not surprisingly, the yoke of imprisonment fell heaviest on minorities, with 1 of 9 African American men and 1 in 25 Latino males in their twenties and early thirties behind bars, compared with 1 of 65 Anglo males.     Although Clinton could claim an impressive number of accomplishments during his years in office, "the whole seemed to be less than the sum of the parts." Health care, of course, was the biggest fiasco. The administration's plan, which was remarkably market oriented and cost conscious in an attempt to avoid the anticipated charge of being a traditional tax-and-spend Democratic program, was shot down amid withering attacks as being too liberal, too expensive, and too big-government oriented. This crushing defeat ushered in the turn against government that culminated in the Republican Revolution of 1994. Although it soon became apparent that rumors of revolution were greatly exaggerated, the remainder of the Clinton term mostly followed the policy agenda shaped decisively by the Republican conservatives in the House. Major health care initiatives were replaced by limited Band-Aid measures, despite the fact that the number of uninsured Americans continued to grow. New departures in environmental protection or urban livability failed to surface in a political climate in which moderate and cautious "New Democrats" faced an ideologically doctrinaire, conservative Congress. Even small initiatives achieved through reluctant bipartisanship, amid substantial bickering of a personal as well as a partisan nature, were accomplished in spite of an overarching agreement on deficit reduction as the top national priority. Such a Republican-leaning agenda prompted even President Clinton to exclaim that "we're Eisenhower Republicans here and we are fighting Reagan Republicans!"     The Democrats, standing in the shadow of Reaganomics, offered little by way of alternative programs to ameliorate the pain entailed by rapid restructuring of the economy in response to globalization. Although the Clinton administration presided over the longest stretch of prosperity in memory, the displacement of old liberalism by neoliberalism in the Democratic party meant that economic policies were more solicitous of the interests of American corporations than of the needs of ordinary Americans, at least those receiving short shrift in the information economy. The Democrats' default ensured that a surprising number of issues with arguably popular appeal remained off the policy table. Pat Buchanan, running on the far right in the 1996 Republican presidential primaries, had demonstrated the great appeal of job security to the voters, a theme not picked up by the Clinton campaign. The departure of Secretary of Labor Robert Reich from the second-term cabinet left the Clinton team without a steadfast advocate for the plight of American workers. Reich's retirement also reduced the chances that the Democrats would address another major, if somewhat subterranean, national crisis--the dramatic decline of the middle class. Altogether, the economic policies pursued in an era of retrenchment by government and American corporations followed a "low road" to international competitiveness--cost-conscious cutting of wages, jobs, taxes, infrastructure, and research and development. Stephen Cummings suggested that this low road followed past conservative economic policies originating in part in the dependent and underdeveloped Old South, a source that inevitably raises questions about this low road's destination.     In other words, policy in the 1990s resembled the traditional policies of Southern states: fiscally conservative; market oriented, with a decided tilt toward big business; punitive toward the poor; insensitive to if not downright discriminatory toward the interests of racial and ethnic minorities and women; and neglectful of the everyday needs of average folks. Mud 'Rastling As a bewildered nation looked on, President Clinton's second term was tainted by the impeachment fiasco. Resembling nothing more than a barnyard brawl at times, the entire affair over "The Affair" seemed more like trash TV than drama worthy of the highest offices in the land. The whole spectacle--personal, unseemly, lacking in decorum--surely made Miss Manners's flesh crawl. And once again, the primetime actors were almost entirely Southern.     The chief protagonist, Clinton, had preached a "rhetoric of responsibility" in a pitch for "value voters," but he could not live it. In risking everything in an affair with a White House intern, Clinton evidenced traces of that strange blend of hedonism and Puritanism that W. J. Cash claimed characterized the "mind of the South." In publicly proclaiming while privately flaunting old-fashioned morality, Clinton, a Southern Baptist, resembled those Southern low-churchers whom Southern novelist Leroy Percy described as faithfully attending revival services but then fighting and fornicating in the bushes afterward.     Clinton's tormentors spoke, or railed, in a Southern accent, too. The president's chief nemesis, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, hailed from the small Southern town of Vernon, Texas, a mere 350 miles from the president's birthplace of Hope, Arkansas. The impeachment forces in the House were led first by Georgian Gingrich, then by Livingston of Louisiana. Many of the House prosecutors represented Southern constituencies, and the most extreme proponents of impeachment, for example, Tom Delay of Texas and Bob Barr of Georgia, had a distinctly Southern cast.     While evincing a "pox on both your houses" attitude, the American public, according to polls, found the whole episode not terribly edifying, indeed, not even very significant or substantive. Although most Americans were genuinely shocked that our politics could have come to such a pass, the sad truth is that the whole impeachment imbroglio was reminiscent of the worst of the down-and-dirty politics of Dixie of old. Although not necessarily resembling a "comic opera," to most citizens, the entire episode was a diversion, a sideshow, though not so much entertaining as riveting. It distracted much public energy and attention away from society's real ills. In doing so, it functioned in much the same way that politics had in Dixie. Dixie Rising The emergence of Southern prominence has not been limited to politics. In the 1980s, much discussion of the economy deplored the decline of the Northern manufacturing Rust Belt and heralded the rise of the Sun Belt. In retrospect, we can see that much of the mobility of investment and jobs to the South was only the first wave of a larger flow of capital from the United States to less developed countries. Yet the South, with its economy more centered in the booming service sector, remains poised to continue to reap a major regional share of the benefits of the transition to a "postindustrial" economy.     The South's economic upsurge has been accompanied by rapid population growth. Migration from the rest of the country resulted in growing urbanization and suburbanization. It also produced a direct shift in political power, as Southern states gained seats in Congress through reapportionment. Although strongly concentrated in Florida and Texas, reapportionment netted the region as a whole a gain of nineteen seats in the House of Representatives from the 1960 to the 1990 censuses. Southern cities also grew because of population shifts within the region, and international migration grew especially rapidly, beginning in the 1980s. These migrations transformed the region from a mostly rural population in black and white to an increasingly cosmopolitan, multicultural mix more closely resembling the rest of the country.     Perhaps population growth and changes facilitated what other observers have claimed to detect: a rising tide of Southern cultural hegemony. Writing in the New York Times , David Galef asserted that Southern culture was "spreading faster than kudzu": The blues have come to Carnegie Hall, there's an Off Broadway revival of Patsy Cline, and Garth Brooks has taken over Central Park. John Grisham, the best-selling novelist from Mississippi, keeps turning out movie-friendly thrillers on a yearly basis. In the art scene, folk objects like McArthur Chism's bottle-cap art from the rural South are selling faster than hotcakes--or rather biscuits, which the Acme Bar and Grill in Manhattan features for weekend brunches, along with red-eye gravy. Upscale floral decorators now include cotton bolls in their arrangements, and the plantation look is big in furniture. Other signs of the new legitimacy of mythical Southern nostalgia include the 1999 rerelease of Gone With the Wind and the advent of a Southern party, which advocates, apparently with a straight face, Southern secession, only this time by legal means. In a more pragmatic vein, the success and spread of CNN, headquartered in Atlanta; the popularity and victories of the Atlanta Braves, televised on Ted Turner's Superstation network, and indeed, the emergence of Turner's broadcasting holdings as one of the leading international communications empires; the hosting of the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta; and the near-universal adoption of the useful "y'all" in pop-speak all betoken a Southern cultural revival that might support the recent tilt in our politics.     Nor was the South's influence limited to pop culture. In 1997, President Clinton appointed fellow Southerners to head both the National Endowment for the Arts (William Ivey, a Michigan native but former Vanderbilt University professor who had directed the Country Music Foundation in Nashville since 1971) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (William Ferris, a Mississippi native who founded the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture). Of course, the prime impetus for these appointments may have stemmed from an effort to blunt the attacks on these national endowments by Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and his fellow conservatives, who felt that "liberal" cultural elites had lost touch with the populace and were sponsoring morally degenerate projects. Whatever its impetus, Southern leadership of national cultural institutions has not gone unnoticed, producing "a certain undercurrent of disdain among scholars who view Southern culture as an oxymoron." (Continues...) Excerpted from Democracy Heading South by Augustus B. Cochran III. Copyright © 2001 by University Press of Kansas. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1. Dixie Deja Vu: Southern Politics All Over Againp. 9
2. Politics in the Land of Cotton: Old Times There Should Not Be Forgottenp. 28
3. Dual Convergence: The Reconstruction of the Unreconstructed Southp. 50
4. Dual Convergence II: The North Marches Southp. 84
5. Realignment Versus Dealignment: Hunting Where the Ducks Arep. 116
6. Politics: America's Number One Problemp. 144
7. Southern Symptoms: The Haunting Specter of V. O. Keyp. 173
8. Southern Horizons: The South of the Future and the South as Futurep. 205
Notesp. 227
Bibliographyp. 281
Indexp. 301