George Tindall, for years an esteemed professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, coined a term "business progessivism" to describe how the Tar Heel State operated. He also extended the model to the rest of the South.
Central to his outlook was the paradox of how material advancement in the form of schools and roads could come in the guise of fiscally conservative government. V.O. Key, the heralded political scientist, called it "progressive plutocracy" specifically referencing North Carolina. No matter, this approach has largely dominated southern governments and border states like West Virginia.
But lately the balance has begun to shift, placing moderate Republicans and blue dog Democrats on the defensive. Suddenly, the promotion of tourism, specific economic interests and the lottery - that bad substitute for taxation - have come under attack. Not without reason, the conservative columnist George Will calls it "booster socialism" and criticizes its national uses in the form of financing athletic facilities and other "must have" items. The lottery is the cornerstone of these efforts and some regard its uses as bordering on immoral.
Certainly its a means of political avoidance. In the South, it was used to gain vital services while producing a profit for and gaining support from big business. It also was a dodge from discussing racial issues. Often it involved taxing the middle class and poor at a higher rate - something that some Democrats thought contradictory in order to upgrade schools and public health. In large measure, it succeeded; but only after it created social imbalances and not a little resentment on the part of those disproportionately footing the bill.
But now it is not such an easy remedy, if it ever were so. Gov. Terry Sanford, who served in the early 1960s, created great schisms within the Democratic Party when he put business progressivism into overdrive. He instituted a 3-percent sales tax and good levy, upgraded schools and put in place a community college system. While he was at it, he established a school of the arts in Winston-Salem. For upscale Democrats, it was all for the good, for those who provided the base, it was "questionable extravagance." Save for a 1986 Senate win, Sanford never won another election.
Republican moderates had much the same trouble. Nelson Rockefeller described the business model of progress in such vague terms that the reporters in New York called it BOMFOG, Brotherhood of man - fatherhood of God. But as economic inequities grow greater in our times, the taxpayer becomes a little choosy. Perhaps an area gets spruced up, but they foot the bill. In some localities they do it at the extent of making it impossible for some residents to live there. Not for nothing did Sanford end up president of the private Duke University and not his alma mater UNC.
Instead of dealing with public needs directly, business progressives fawn over "job producing" projects that never fulfill promises. But the key is not achieving democracy - it is making sure that economic growth can overcome inequities. When the rate slows, you have rutted roads, low-paid teachers and crowded schools. But you can bet the business boys keep up the pace. It was a Faustian-bargain made years ago at a time when the economy would support the formulation of profits and public benefits.
Now there are choices and the years of alienating working class voters make it harder to find a coalition. For blue dog Democrats, the problem is stuck because big business can go either way - expanded services that help or lower taxes that satisfy their needs. In many respects, Democrats abased themselves to no purpose by courting their "allies" in the business community. They threw away their core support in their pursuit of economic growth at whatever cost.