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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America - Thomas Frank I know, this was published in 2004, so why am I only getting to it now? Well...I am getting to it...The basic question behind What’s the Matter with Kansas, that frames the introduction, is this liberal astonishment: how can anyone who’s ever worked for someone else vote Republican? But the problem with the liberals is, they can ask a question like this with a straight face. To explain this situation, Frank says, maybe they were pushed by Bill Clinton and his patently insincere concern and his contempt for anyone who was not Ivy League. I think he’s onto something here, but again, this is still just the rhetorical veneer. Maybe regular people see through a lot of the BS and posturing, and know these guys are doing nothing for them in Washington.So the key, Frank says, is that cultural anger is marshalled by the Repubs, to achieve economic ends. That basically, modern ultra-conservatism is a propaganda move on the part of corporations and their cronies in government, to distract their constituents from the real issues, and wave the red sheet in front of the bull. These hot-button issues have little or nothing to do with the interests and goals of the corporations — but then again, they have little or nothing to do with the economic needs or interests of the people, either. They’re just the bloody shirt, all over again. Will historians be able to show that the Repubs have ever been about anything else? When Richard John discussed the telegraph monopolists and their opponents, he said Tammany Hall used the anti-monopoly issue as a way of mobilizing people and gaining supporters, even though the politicians really were only interested in power — and that people realized this. Puck Magazine published editorial cartoons with regular folks standing between the Tammany politicos and the spider of Jay Gould’s monopoly, with nowhere to turn. So how widespread was this understanding that the “issues” of the day were merely opportunities for politicians to differentiate themselves from each other?“Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A.” Almost makes you wonder whether the shock-artists aren’t part of the machine? “You vote to stop abortion and you receive a roll-back in capital gains taxes.” Beautifully put. Kansas food deserts. What? See post here...So his thesis about class is that the Repubs have redefined it, so that class is not based on economic or even power differences, but on “authenticity.” John Kerry’s wealth makes him an elitist because he’s a snob, and George W. Bush’s wealth doesn’t register, because he doesn’t like French wine. It’s pathetic that people are taken in by this, but equally sad that anyone would attempt to defend John Kerry. Really? Is that all we have to choose from? And isn’t that our real problem?All claims from the right, Frank says, arise from a sense (or at least a pose) of victimhood. Okay, but don’t all claims in American politics arise from a sense of victimhood? Isn’t this what Heather Cox Richardson and Patricia Limerick were talking about? Are all these political fights really about seeing who gets to wear the label of the “true victims of America?” One of the points of these cultural battles, Frank says, is that they can never be won. The leaders have chosen causes that are lost, because they’re the gift that keeps on giving. If there’s a chance of winning, then you have a whole different type of energy. This is the lesson of the 2008 election — “Hope” and “Change” will hurt Obama in the long run. The conservative machine is much smarter. Their objective is not to win, but to continue to mobilize outrage. After all, the politicians who fail to deliver can be cast aside and replaced by others. This isn’t a program for the benefit of politicians, it’s a program for the corporations. Frank suggests comparing the rhetoric of the rabid conservatives with 1930s communist writer Mike Gold’s language, which might be fun to do at some point. The difference, he suggests, is that once you drain the economics out of these arguments, you have very little explanatory power left. But why should that be a problem? The game isn’t about explanation, it’s about anger.