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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America [Kindle Edition]

Thomas Frank
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (461 customer reviews)

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Book Description

One of "our most insightful social observers"* cracks the great political mystery of our time: how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans

With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank turns his eye on what he calls the "thirty-year backlash"--the populist revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment. The high point of that backlash is the Republican Party's success in building the most unnatural of alliances: between blue-collar Midwesterners and Wall Street business interests, workers and bosses, populists and right-wingers.

In asking "what 's the matter with Kansas?"--how a place famous for its radicalism became one of the most conservative states in the union--Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of us vote against our economic interests? Where's the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? The questions are urgent as well as provocative. Frank answers them by examining pop conservatism--the bestsellers, the radio talk shows, the vicious political combat--and showing how our long culture wars have left us with an electorate far more concerned with their leaders' "values" and down-home qualities than with their stands on hard questions of policy.

A brilliant analysis--and funny to boot--What's the Matter with Kansas? presents a critical assessment of who we are, while telling a remarkable story of how a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs came to convince a nation that they spoke on behalf of the People.

*Los Angeles Times

Editorial Reviews Review

The largely blue collar citizens of Kansas can be counted upon to be a "red" state in any election, voting solidly Republican and possessing a deep animosity toward the left. This, according to author Thomas Frank, is a pretty self-defeating phenomenon, given that the policies of the Republican Party benefit the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the average worker. According to Frank, the conservative establishment has tricked Kansans, playing up the emotional touchstones of conservatism and perpetuating a sense of a vast liberal empire out to crush traditional values while barely ever discussing the Republicans' actual economic policies and what they mean to the working class. Thus the pro-life Kansas factory worker who listens to Rush Limbaugh will repeatedly vote for the party that is less likely to protect his safety, less likely to protect his job, and less likely to benefit him economically. To much of America, Kansas is an abstract, "where Dorothy wants to return. Where Superman grew up." But Frank, a native Kansan, separates reality from myth in What's the Matter with Kansas and tells the state's socio-political history from its early days as a hotbed of leftist activism to a state so entrenched in conservatism that the only political division remaining is between the moderate and more-extreme right wings of the same party. Frank, the founding editor of The Baffler and a contributor to Harper's and The Nation, knows the state and its people. He even includes his own history as a young conservative idealist turned disenchanted college Republican, and his first-hand experience, combined with a sharp wit and thorough reasoning, makes his book more credible than the elites of either the left and right who claim to understand Kansas. --John Moe

From The New Yorker

Kansas, once home to farmers who marched against "money power," is now solidly Republican. In Frank's scathing and high-spirited polemic, this fact is not just "the mystery of Kansas" but "the mystery of America." Dismissing much of the received punditry about the red-blue divide, Frank argues that the problem is the "systematic erasure of the economic" from discussions of class and its replacement with a notion of "authenticity," whereby "there is no bad economic turn a conservative cannot do unto his buddy in the working class, as long as cultural solidarity has been cemented over a beer." The leaders of this backlash, by focussing on cultural issues in which victory is probably impossible (abortion, "filth" on TV), feed their base's sense of grievance, abetted, Frank believes, by a "criminally stupid" Democratic strategy of triangulation. Liberals do not need to know more about nascar; they need to talk more about money and class.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 665 KB
  • Print Length: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2007)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003J4VEM2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,871 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
284 of 319 people found the following review helpful
In his book 1984, George Orwell described the state of perpetual war in his fictional future society by saying that the war wasn't meant to be won, it was only meant to be continuous. In WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?, Thomas Frank illustrates how, and how effectively, the neoconservative right has implemented Orwell's concepts via a neverending war over culture and values.
Using his home state of Kansas as the model and focal point, Frank asks rhetorically why it is that Kansans so willingly espouse right-wing social issues (creationism, defunding public schools, prayer in schools, pro-life) while simultaneously allowing their state to become economically devastated by Republican free market policies of unfettered, unregulated capitalism. In other words, why do Kansans (and many other Red Staters) vote consistently against their pocketbooks, against their own economic self-interest?
With great specificity, Frank illustrates these behaviors and their devastating economic consequences by describing individuals and communities in Kansas. These are some of the strongest parts of his book, since they demonstrate through real people and real towns how life has changed, and continues to change, under Republican conservative rule. If anything, Frank could use more of these examples, particularly more description of some of the small towns and communities in his state that are dying a slow and tortured economic death. Regardless, the examples given convey the sense that Kansans are voting Red even as they vote themselves economically dead.
Frank correctly ascribes this seemingly self-contradictory behavior to the idea that Conservatives have discovered a means to incite permanent "backlash" among the Red Staters through culture wars.
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145 of 167 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most insightful analyses of the contemporary political scene in the United States that I have read. I am writing this on the morning following a presidential election whose outcome is probably going to baffle a host of well informed, issue-oriented Americans for sometime. Thomas Frank, however, provides marvelous keys for understanding what has transpired, and also should provide some warnings to Democrats concerning how the political landscape has been transformed in recent decades.

Frank wants to explain a dilemma. On the one hand, the Republican Party has embraced a set of policies and enacted a wide range of legislation that hurts most Americans economically and provides a benefit to only a very small segment of the American population. Statistics provided by the Fed and the IRS have documented over the past twenty-five years a sharp and dramatic concentration of wealth in the upper one percent of the population. For instance, in 1979 20% of the national wealth as defined by the Federal Reserve was concentrated in the top 1%, while in 1997 39% was, and with the three rounds of Bush tax cuts focused on primarily benefiting the wealth and our largest corporations, it is not hard to imagine that that figure might have climbed to 45% or higher. And yet Americans continue to vote for members of a party that seems to be dedicated to intensifying that trend (a large number in the GOP are now talking about a national sales tax and eliminating the income tax-as opposed to Europe, which has a value added tax but also a tax on the wealthy, which is not what is being suggested here-which would dramatically increase this shift of wealth away from the middle class). How is this possible?
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674 of 802 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's Behind the Curtain July 17, 2004
It's very interesting to see the book's detractors on this forum, many of whom have clearly not read it, saying *exactly* the things Frank predicts they will, as if from a familiar, shopworn script.
I agree with the reviewer who said that the key to this problem is that many of these voters have been convinced that social issues are more important than economic ones. Contrary to what others have insinuated, it's not that these individuals disagree with progressives on economic issues, but that they are goaded into thinking that whether they are able to own an AK-47 is more important than whether they will be able to afford a life-saving operation for their sick child. A healthy, well-educated child will grow up empowered and less likely to want or need that AK-47, and that's the connection that is critical, but difficult, to make.
Frank implies the answer to this problem while not tackling it explicitly. It is combatting the anti-intellectual, anti- "elitist" rhetoric, repeated again and again and drummed into the brain, that soon overshadows everything else. We can see it aped right here in this forum, by people who think that living in the Northeast or buying a hybrid car automatically makes you an elite, while the true elites undermine others' ability to make it on a level playing field and then laugh all the way to the bank. It is not about big vs. small government, it is about government (of whatever size) privileging the haves at the expense of the have nots.
Excellent, thoughtful, insightful book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A MUST read for everyone regardless of what side of the aisle you are on.
Published 9 days ago by douglas marques
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book
Published 1 month ago by Thomas L Hanish
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Great book
Published 1 month ago by Kenna E Bassett
3.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Frank: A Liberal In The Political Wilderness
This well-known book argues that many people who would normally vote Democrat are manipulated into voting Republican, hence acting against their fundamental economic interests,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by SockPuppet
1.0 out of 5 stars He talks about a bias and is very unaware of his own
He brought about some very interesting thoughts at the outset, but failed to show me how they were in any way played any part in reality. He had bits and pieces of reality. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Z-E
4.0 out of 5 stars Kind of a polemic
This book is an interesting read, and is singlemindedly committed to developing a specific idea regarding the cultural sources of American politics. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark M
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
Informative book!
Published 4 months ago by sherri weitnauer
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!
After the election of 2014 when to my shock, Brownback was reelected, I decided it was time to finally read this book.
Published 4 months ago by Kathleen
5.0 out of 5 stars ... account of how most Kansans vote against their own best interests,...
A very revealing account of how most Kansans vote against their own best interests, as they certainly did in 2014. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bannergal
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Thomas Frank has a great voice
Published 5 months ago by Alexsander Jevtich
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More About the Author

Founding editor of The Baffler, Thomas Frank is the author of One Market Under God, The Conquest of Cool and What's the Matter With America? He is also a contributor to Harper's, The Nation, and the New York Times op-ed pages.


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