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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Paperback – April 14, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507774X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805077742
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (434 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

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.

Customer Reviews

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271 of 299 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on July 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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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141 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2004
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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77 of 85 people found the following review helpful By C. Catherwood on August 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is by far the best of the countless books written on the Culture Wars in recent years, explaining as it does the paradox that poor people vote overwhelmingly, in many parts of the USA, for the party of big business and against their own economic interests. Being from Britain, where there are many pro-life Labour MPs and many pro-choice Conservative/Thatcherite MPs, I am always puzzled by the way in which culture so dominates the voting patterns of Americans, in a way that is simply not the case in the United Kingdom. This book explains why, and while its author is clearly a Democrat, this is a work sufficiently lacking in vitriol (at last!) that Republicans might enjoy it as well. Read it and understand what is going on in the Culture Wars in the USA and why formerly Socialist Kansas might be voting Republican this fall. Christopher Catherwood (author of CHURCHILL'S FOLLY: HOW WINSTON CHURCHILL CREATED MODERN IRAQ: Carroll and Graf 2004)
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Stefanie on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My friends and I have been struggling in the last few weeks to understand Election 04. Yes, we are all East Coast sushi-eating, latte-drinking, post-graduate degree holding liberals, and many of us volunteered on the Kerry campaign, but we are also really trying to promote policies that help the greater good as we understand them. The election results, with that vast sea of red between the two coasts, were very difficult for me to accept as I couldn't understand why people were seemingly voting against their own economic self-interests.

"What's the Matter with Kansas?" has been really helpful in explaining to me the forces that have changed much of America's heartland from its populist/progressive heyday to being a conservative stronghold. It was fascinating for me to learn about the internal struggles in the Republican Party between conservatives and moderates, and it's instructional to read about the powerful grassroots mobilization that conservatives have used to their benefit.

I think the book is much stronger in its first half, discussing economic trends and reactive politics over the last few decades. When Frank veers more into the social/religious arena in later chapters, I think he comes off as more judgmental of the conservative viewpoint. Sure, I completely sympathize, but I think the real value of this book is for liberals and moderates who are trying to understand why so many people continue to support Bush and, at the same time, to spur conversation about what the Democratic Party needs to do in the next 2-4 years to reach out to these committed voters without compromising our own social and moral values.

And the themes of this book are in no means particular to Kansas. I think almost every state has regions that fit the same mold.
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