- Paperback: 322 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080507774X
- ISBN-13: 978-0805077742
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 521 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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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
“The best political book of the year.” ―Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
“Frank is a formidable controversialist-imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience.” ―George F. Will, The Washington Post
“Brilliant.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times
“Mr. Frank re-injects economic-class issues into the debate with sardonic vehemence.” ―Jerome Weeks, The Dallas Morning News
“A searing piece of work . . . one of the most important political writings in years.” ―The Boston Globe
“Dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic . . . Frank has made much sense of the world in this book.” ―Chicago Tribune
“Impassioned, compelling . . . Frank's books mark him as one of the most insightful thinkers of the twenty-first century, four years into it.” ―Houston Chronicle
“Very funny and very painful . . . Add another literary gold star after Thomas Frank's name.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
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This book really answers those questions well. Furthermore, the writing style is fantastic. Every time one picks it up, it's nearly impossible to put down. I read the entire thing in just five days.
The quick answer here is that Democrats used to have the votes of the common man, and of blue-collar labor, because they concentrated on economic issues. Around 1990 the Democrats stopped talking about economic issues because they needed to RAISE MORE MONEY FROM BIG DONORS. They stopped talking about minimum wage issues and business practices that hurt small workers. Those small workers only gave small amounts of political contributions anyway; therefore no one was really interested in them as a constituency. As a result, the issues the Democrats are left talking about are things like legalizing gay marriage and keeping abortion legal.
According to this book, starting around 1990, the "new" Republican wing started talking about moral issues such as not dismembering babies, not teaching children about gay sex, in addition to capturing the whole part of the country which is "anti-intellectual" above all else. They captured the sentiment of "America has changed, and it's not the America I grew up with," angry white voters, who now define all problems in America as coming from "liberals who hate America and want to destroy it." Liberals are now defined as "educated 'experts' (scientists and professionals) who try to tell us what to think (on issues such as climate change and gay marriage), who drink wine, drive Volvos, and who are NOT LIKE US, THE COMMON PEOPLE." All these people who used to be the Democratic base are now voting Republican because the Democrats have forgotten them by taking economics out of what they talk about.
The book is a provocative and interesting excellent read.
The answer, which Frank provides with the blend of extensive reporting and satiric wit that's become his trademark: Because of a 'divide and conquer' strategy in which Republican politicians and commentators use not only hot-button social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, but also trivial matters such as where one shops and dines, and what make of automobile one drives, to enrage these people and direct their rage toward snobbish "liberal elites" that supposedly control America-and hate conservative, poor whites. (Those elites, for example, don't shop at Walmart, don't eat at McDonald's, drive Volvos instead of American vehicles and sip lattes-or worse, tea-instead of drinking coffee.)
Absent from the above strategy, Frank notes, is any mention of issues tied to their dire economic circumstances.
However, once elected, Republican politicians avoid the explosive social issues they exploited to inflame the working-class and poor white into voting for them-and instead turn their attention to those economic issues, such as cutting taxes for the wealthy, undoing business regulations and undermining the social safety net. If questioned about why they haven't made progress on those hot-button social issues, they blame-you guessed it-those "liberal elites." In brief, the GOP operates-and thrives-by blending "us vs. them" and "bait-and-switch."
Frank adds that Democrats aren't free of blame in the situation, either. He accuses the party of deliberately turning its back on those working-class and poor white Americans whose causes they once championed-and dropping the class language it once spoke to distinguish themselves from Republicans-in order to remake themselves as a party just as pro-business as Republicans. He also accuses Democratic leaders of assuming the working class and the poor will vote for their party because there's nowhere else for them to turn. (Frank expands upon these charges in his later book "Listen, Liberal," which I've reviewed elsewhere on Amazon.)
As a subtle rebuke to this sort of thinking, Frank notes the example of Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, who won the governorship by focusing on economic issues and avoiding social issues.
The lone shortcoming of Frank's book is that it largely avoids the white-identity politics, the race-based sense of economic entitlement, and the anxiety and resentment that have played important roles in campaigns since this book's initial hardcover publication in 2004.
That aside, it will still give readers much to think about-especially regarding the current state of the nation.