Democracy Heading South

National Politics in the Shadow of Dixie

Augustus B. Cochran III

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.

“A compelling examination of the many ways in which our current institutions and practices mirror those of the undemocratic old South.

—Journal of Politics

“Cochran analyzes fundamental structural pathologies in contemporary American politics with chilling clarity. He 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. . . . 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.

—Publishers Weekly
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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.

About the Author

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.