But it’s not merely racism that explains why the South remains as politically polarized now as it has ever been. [Not merely. Thanks, guys. --Grim]...The reason the piece fails is demonstrated in its comment about "why the Democratic convention is being held in Charlotte, the prototypical New South city." To understand the mechanism at work in the South, you need to know that the prototypical New South city isn't Charlotte, it's Atlanta.
“I worry about where we are,” said Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has written extensively on the politics of race and culture.... Asked what exactly the president wanted to address, Webb paused before responding: “My observation is that, how can it be that in the party of Andrew Jackson, only 28 percent of white working males support the Democratic Party? It’s difficult to talk about these things.”...
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights hero who bled in Selma, echoed Graham’s concerns.
“It does bother me to see such a division in the South,” Lewis said, adding: “It’s not healthy to have so few white Democratic members from the South.”
Atlanta was the "New South" a hundred years ago, and for the same reason Charlotte is today: it's an urban area that serves as the headquarters for finance, large corporations, and a model of production borrowed (like the money that funded it) from the North. It was a place where, in 1880, bankers from Wall Street could come and feel comfortable. People who lived there agreed to adopt the North's basic social and economic system in exchange for access to Northern capital.
Atlanta is no hotbed of liberalism today, although there are enclaves within the city that are. Charlotte won't remain one for the same reason. Once that external capital -- formerly Northern, now international -- generates enough wealth, others will come from around the rest of the South to set up small businesses to serve those enjoying the wealth. As the small businesses become successful, they will give rise to a political class with wealth and leisure to promote their own values -- small business values.
Atlanta is now surrounded by concentric rings of people who aren't part of that core system that was funded by Northern money, and which bound itself to Northern values. In Charlotte, finance is the big business, and that's now led by people with the internationalist mindset that rides behind the World Bank and the UN instead of the old Wall Street leadership. But there are far more Southerners in the South than internationalists, and as they become plumbers or restaurateurs, they will likewise become wealthy enough to be politically active.
With the collapse of large-scale manufacturing industries like the textile industry, too, "white working class" voters in the South work for these small businesses. They know the owners intimately. They understand that their job and the ability of their boss to give them a raise is connected to these same interests. And, more likely than not, they go to the same church.
That's the TEA Party movement in a nutshell: its core is made of small business owners and their families, who are defending the values and interests of small business owners. Those values are the traditional values of the Christian work ethic (now supplemented by many who follow the surprisingly similar Hindu or Chinese work ethic), and the family unit as the locus of social support and success. Their interests are low taxes and cutting back on the regulatory state.
That's also why the TEA Party isn't a Southern movement: you see it across the country, embracing the same set of folks. The movement is just stronger in the South because the South is where the main large-scale industry collapsed first. Textile mills and sewing factories were once a major employer of the white working class in the South, and they're all gone to Mexico. The unions are gone too.
So Virginia might remain a swing state because of the massive number of Federal workers, and those whose interests lie with a rich and powerful Federal government. North Carolina isn't going to remain a swing state: Charlotte is just the next Atlanta.
If Jim Webb and John Lewis want the South back, it's available: the Democratic Party just has to return to supporting the values and interests of the voters. Those are, broadly speaking, Christian values, low taxes, and less regulation. They are opposed to broad-scale social experimentation, government-based social programs that require high taxes to fund them, and crony capitalism that favors large companies and international finance. This includes regulatory schemes that raise the bar of entry so that smaller businesses can't afford to compete. It just happens to be the case that, right now, the Democratic Party is unified behind all those projects that Southerners dislike.
I think Jim Webb is right about Jackson: Southerners also want a strong military, and a leader they can look up to as an exemplar of personal honor. It wouldn't hurt to nominate somebody who felt the same way.