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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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The New York Times bestseller, praised as "hilariously funny . . . the only way to understand why so many Americans have decided to vote against their own economic and political interests" (Molly Ivins)Hailed as "dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic" ( Chicago Tribune), "very funny and very painful" ( San Francisco Chronicle), and "in a different league from most political books" ( The New York Observer), What's the Matter with Kansas? unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas-a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation's most eager participants in the culture wars. Charting what he calls the "thirty-year backlash"-the popular revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment-Frank reveals how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans.A brilliant analysis-and funny to boot- What's the Matter with Kansas? is a vivid portrait of an upside-down world where blue-collar patriots recite the Pledge while they strangle their life chances; where small farmers cast their votes for a Wall Street order that will eventually push them off their land; and where a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs has managed to convince the country that it speaks on behalf of the People.
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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.
Before his term ends, since the legislature is under his control, it will be more difficult to get rid of
those like him who will follow. I recommend that everyone who cares about the direction our republican form of government is headed read this book.