Jim Leutze gives voice to the Tar Heel liberal’s lament in his latest book, “Entering North Carolina: Set Clocks Back 100 Years.”
Actually, Leutze thinks we are heading back even further than 100 years under the new libertarian/Republican rule in Raleigh and in Congress – back to horse and buggy days. These are not, Leutze says, your father’s Republicans. They are, he argues, more akin to your great grandfather’s Republicans or old-line Democrats.
“I am increasingly convinced that they want to trash the Grand Bargain, repeal the New Deal, the Progressive Era and go back to the 1890s,” he writes. (The Grand Bargain was the country’s willingness to stick with capitalism, as long as its worst excesses were restrained by regulations as proposed by Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.)
If Leutze’s name sounds familiar it should. The historian is a former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and a former president of Hampden-Sydney College. He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2010 as a Democrat. He lost to Republican Thom Goolsby, who is famous for having called the Moral Monday protests against the legislature “Moron Mondays.”
Chronicling Republican rise
Leutze’s book provides a thumbnail history of a historically poor rural state, struggling to catch up with the rest of the country – one that is politically divided between its conservative and forward-looking impulses. He misses the days of such Democratic stalwarts as Govs. Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt.
He attributes the current rise of Republicans, which he calls the Redeemers, to a series of causes.
“To summarize, they were, in no rank order; the continuing traditionalist strain; the complacent Democratic Party; the Redeemers’ well-oiled, coordinated organization; out-of-state dark money; the Tea Party; the economy, the loss of business support for progressive policies; Obama; scandals; lack of organization by public education leaders; and finally, the concept that it couldn’t happen here. When you put them all together, it is easy to understand how the battle was lost.”
Leutze says he doesn’t necessarily want a return of a Democratic majority, but of a coalition government – including Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents – that believe that progress should be defined more broadly than cutting taxes, shrinking government and cutting regulations.
Objective measures needed
The state swings back and forth like a pendulum, Leutze suggests. If the pendulum is to return to the Sanford-Hunt mold that made North Carolina a regional leader, Leutze says a number of things must be done.
Among them is convincing the business community – long the wheelhouse of Tar Heel politics – that the state’s best course lies in an adequately funded education system, not in having the lowest taxes in the South. In that connection, Leutze believes that North Carolina will be more attractive to businesses if it returns to its pre-2010 model – as the South’s most progressive state, rather than continue as a national laboratory for conservative/libertarian policies.
He also calls for the renewal of The Progress Board, an independent body that can provide objective measures of how North Carolina is progressing in such areas as education, health, environment and jobs.
“If the traditionalists are so confident they are going to ‘fix’ North Carolina,” Leutze writes, “then they ought to be eager to submit their results to analysis.”