The Secret of the Sauce: What Democrats Need to Know About North Carolina’s Kick-Ass Populism


Appeals to economic fairness and mistrust of moneymen were clearly appealing to ordinary North Carolinians. But the old order had a significant advantage: It was the old order. When country folk listened to radical speakers, they heard religion ridiculed, patriotism blasted and racial equality proclaimed. Talk of treason and atheism alienated people who lacked basic necessities and wanted to hear about how to improve their welfare.

In May of this year, when the 93-year-old Billy Graham declared from his mountaintop retreat near Asheville that God did not wish gays to marry, his call was duly heeded. So it went in the ’20s, when evangelicals aligned with the conservative Democrats cautioned rural people to reject the “pinkos,” organizers and evolutionists in favor of spiritual salvation.

In 1928 the Democratic Party monolith finally cracked when conservative leader Senator Furnifold Simmons backed Republican Herbert Hoover instead of the Catholic, anti-Prohibition Al Smith. His apostasy cost Simmons his iron grip on the party, and soon a Democratic faction led by textile magnate O. Max Gardner emerged to challenge the old guard. Political scientist V.O. Key described this new current as “Progressive Plutocracy.” Some of its progressivism reflected business desires for cautious modernization, but much stemmed from the realization that power depended on at least lukewarm support from the real progressives. …

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