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209 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On History not repeating, and resonating only inversely..., December 21, 2011
This review is from: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (Hardcover)
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Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America was first published in 2004, to considerable acclaim, for examining why so many Americans voted against their economic interests. He commenced with a startling fact: the poorest county in the United States is not in Appalachia or the Deep South; rather it is on the High Plains, McPherson County, in Nebraska. In the year 2000, more than 80% of the resident voters (admittedly a rather small group) went for George W. Bush, the Republican. "Why" is the subject of that book. How did conservatives capture the American heartland? As Frank pithily postulates: It was as though the French Revolution occurred in reverse, with the people running through the streets demanding that the nobility be given even more money and privileges!

"Pity the Billionaire" covers even more astonishing recent developments. It is one thing to have people prostrate themselves before the "free-market god" prior to 2008. But when it became "the god that failed" to reference Arthur Koestler's book about his eventual disillusionment with communism, and the entire house of cards came tumbling down, then how could Americans be calling for yet a purer version of the "free market," effectively doubling down on their bets? Why didn't they throw the rigid ideology of the supremacy of the "free market" into the dust bin of history, along with communism? Frank does a superlative job illuminating how this most unlikely occurrence unfolded.

He reminds us that we have seen this 2008 movie before: The Great Depression. The excesses of the "Roaring `20's," including highly leveraged speculation on Wall Street, led to massive unemployment, foreclosures, and a decade of hard times. The answer in the `30's commenced by realizing where the problem lay. Prudent rules and laws were enacted to preserve what is still labeled "capitalism," and to tame the "casino mentality." FDR, the "traitor to his own class," talked directly to the workers and the dispossessed, and put many to work in public works projects. The elites were largely vilified, and FDR "welcomed their hatred."

The essence of Frank's work is explaining why there was no rerun of this movie. Most events unfolded in the open, before our eyes. Many mouths gaped that such brazen and implausible events could be pulled off. There was Rick Santelli, a business report, convincing us the "common working man" was the trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. Don't focus on Wall Street, and the trillions required to save their sorry... no, shift the focus to the neighbor who bought the house with the extra bedroom and couldn't afford it. Should you bail out your neighbor for his/her imprudence? Frank discusses the "genius" of Glenn Beck, at length. (It was a variation of "I watch Glenn Beck so you don't have to") - yet Frank nags us that we really must watch him (hopefully only in small doses.) History is constantly re-written; fears like Wells' "invasion of the Martians" are constantly stoked. The problem was not the bonus culture of Wall Street; no, it was big government, and their promotion of housing for the poor. Beck, a consummate actor, can cry when required ... of course, all the way to the bank. Ayn Rand even experiences a revival. Frank details how the Tea Party's righteous anger resulting from the "free-market" failures were channeled at the wrong targets. In fact, as Frank explains, many of the populist forms of rebellion in the `30's were coopted and adopted by the Right after 2008; history resonating inversely. Of the numerous cases Frank cites, it would be hard to trump the sheer chutzpah of Massey Energy's CEO, Don Blankenship, who sponsored a rally to announce solidarity between coal miners and the coal operators, all directed at "getting government bureaucrats off their backs," with their safety and environmental meddling; eight months afterward, 29 miners were killed in an explosion in one of his mines (p 91.)

As so many now know, Obama is no FDR. Starting right from the beginning, when he selected key Wall Street "players" who were instrumental in causing the catastrophe and expecting them to fix it: Summers and Geithner. In contrast, FDR chose a classic populist of a Texas banker, Jesse Jones to run the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (FRC). This time around, "compromise" instead of "welcoming their hatred" was the dominant outlook. I've marked many passages in this book. One that seemed to capture the essence of the triumph of the conservative revival related to the debate on universal health care. The Democrats were unable, or too intimidated to articulate that essential health care is a fundamental right. As Frank says: "It was as though the old-school liberal catechism had become forbidden language, placed on some index of prohibited thoughts" (p. 169).

Inexplicably, Frank does not cover the recent countervailing rise of the "Occupy" movement. And he does end on a down note, suggesting further targets, such as the national parks, the highways, public schools and Social Security are on the Right's agenda as the "nation clambers down through the sulfurous fumes into the pit called utopia..." Still, the increased hubris generated by successfully avoiding the penalty for an ideological failure should only mean that the fall will be that much the greater, the next time around.

Frank has written a worthy sequel to "Kansas," a 5-star effort.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 6, 2012, 3:53:12 PM PST
"The Democrats were unable, or too intimidated to articulate that essential health care is a fundamental right."

Intimidated when they held the presidency and the majority in both houses of Congress? How can one be intimidated when one has all the necessary power to do what one wants? That's not intimidated, that's just not believing in universal health care. The Democrats don't believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though it is domestic and international law.

Posted on Jan 7, 2012, 4:26:31 AM PST
I have read all (I think) of Frank's books and am very interested in reading this one, thanks to your review.

Obama is no FDR and he has made one sorry compromise after another. Too infrequently he has stood up to Republicans such as his most recent recess appointment but caved by allowing our military to arrest citizens on suspicion of terrorism. Reactionaries call him the most "radical president in Amerian history" when the truth is he is barely centrist.

Just one correction, if you don't mind. According to Michele Bachmann, the pronunciation of chutzpah is choots-pah, as in Koo-koo-ka-choo!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2012, 8:40:47 AM PST
What makes Bachmann a chutzpah maven? What are her credentials?
Chutzpah is not choots-pah. it's more like hoots-pah

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2012, 9:01:47 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 7, 2012, 9:08:13 AM PST
Look, Steven, don't fight me on this. Lexington and Concord actually moved its battlegrounds from MA to NH too! And Paul Revere's ride was to actually tell the British they couldn't take away our guns.

Or, was that Sarah?

Koo-koo-ka-chooo!

P.S. Michele also kicked off her campaign in the hometown of John Wayne. So it was really John Wayne Gasey, it still had John Wayne in it.

Posted on Jan 7, 2012, 1:56:36 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 23, 2013, 2:53:29 AM PDT]

Posted on Jan 9, 2012, 8:58:59 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 9, 2012, 8:59:36 AM PST
The TARP bailout was a lot easier to understand than Credit default swaps and collateral debt obligations. So instead of trying to explain how CDOs created the Great Recession through their expert explanations of Krugman's ilk, the right focused on TARP and government interference as the object of populist anger, ever so much easier to explain. And it worked; the Tea Party took off. Why did Obama not exploit populist anger against TARP as crony capitalism? Perhaps because too much of his campaign finances came from wealthy Democrats who beleived in crony capitalism. Democrats aware no longer a populist party; but a party of technocrats and middle class experts. Their reluctance to come out in support of Occupy Wall Street, and against the Hard Times Swindle is a demonstration of how removed from populism hey have become. Of course, it is not too late, and when the OWS returns in the spring to rail against the poor Billionaires adn the 1% perhaps Obama and the Democrats will be ready to support them.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2012, 9:38:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 9, 2012, 9:40:53 AM PST
J. Stika says:
RE: M. Smith

He was actually referring to town hall meetings and public forums. Democrats did not apply explain away the paranoia that came with the health care debate. This was because of the unruly individuals in the meetings. Not an valid excuse for their failure in educating citizens by any means. However, it left them unable to articulate the message. Instead, we were all educated by Tea-Party mass emails and other forms of dishonest propaganda. Not good.

Posted on Jan 10, 2012, 12:59:03 PM PST
Enigma says:
Greetings,

>>>Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America was first published in 2004, to considerable acclaim,

Hmmmm, actually most reviews from the right and left called his thesis into question because the facts he presented in the book showed the exact opposite of his argument. Here is just one of the many academic rebuttals to his first book.

http://www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansas.pdf

>>>How did conservatives capture the American heartland?

As Frank mentioned What's the Matter with Kansas, when things are going very well they tend to vote Democratic and when the economy begins to falter they vote Republican until it rebounds and then the cycle begins again.

>>>"Pity the Billionaire" covers even more astonishing recent developments. It is one thing to have people prostrate themselves before the "free-market god" prior to 2008.

Ironically I don't know anyone who actually thought we had or have a so-called free-market, we have instead a regulated market.

>>>But when it became "the god that failed" to reference Arthur Koestler's book about his eventual disillusionment with communism, and the entire house of cards came tumbling down, then how could Americans be calling for yet a purer version of the "free market," effectively doubling down on their bets?

NOTE: No one really thought it was a free market instead what most on the right saw was a failure of government regulations.

>>>Why didn't they throw the rigid ideology of the supremacy of the "free market" into the dust bin of history, along with communism?

Again it was not a failure of free markets - you and Franks are asking the wrong question based on a false assumption. Instead it was the failure of government and regulations that caused this mess. If anything the markets reacted exactly as they should in a semi-regulated stated which in many ways is worse than a free-market or a highly regulated market.

>>>He reminds us that we have seen this 2008 movie before: The Great Depression.

Actually this economic upheaval had very little in common with the 1930's. Franks is not a very astute observer of economics, he is actually a historian so maybe his mistakes are forgivable.

>>>The answer in the `30's commenced by realizing where the problem lay. Prudent rules and laws were enacted to preserve what is still labeled "capitalism," and to tame the "casino mentality."

Very good - this is the REAL problem and this is where the solution needs to be applied. President Obama has not done anything at all to put forth real solutions and instead is the one who seems to bought and sold by the moneyed interests on wall street.

>>>The elites were largely vilified, and FDR "welcomed their hatred."

On paper they were, much like Obama praises OWS movement as he dines with billionaires.

>>>The essence of Frank's work is explaining why there was no rerun of this movie. Most events unfolded in the open, before our eyes.

Actually this is false too - most of the events that brought down the economy happened in the rarified rooms of big money traders using highly complex CDS that the average person doesn't have a clue about.

>>>There was Rick Santelli, a business report, convincing us the "common working man" was the trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. Don't focus on Wall Street, and the trillions required to save their sorry... no, shift the focus to the neighbor who bought the house with the extra bedroom and couldn't afford it.

Context is key here - Rick Santelli was angered about the bailout of people who were not paying the mortgages and didn't understand why they should get a free ride. His rant was about that legislation - trying to spin it and twist the context is not very intellectually honest.

>>>The problem was not the bonus culture of Wall Street; no, it was big government,

Is it not the governments responsibility to invoke "Prudent rules and laws were enacted to preserve what is still labeled "capitalism," and to tame the "casino mentality"???????

I'm sorry but the bottom line blame is that the government did not regulate or get involved. If you dig deeper you will find out that the appropriate government agencies and politicians were in the loop and paid off (whoops gave healthy donations to their reelection campaigns)

>>>Frank details how the Tea Party's righteous anger resulting from the "free-market" failures were channeled at the wrong targets.

Hmmmmm, actually the Tea Party event I went too out of curiosity had their anger at the failed regulation of these industries and at government. What other target is there to be angry at?

>>>As so many now know, Obama is no FDR. Starting right from the beginning, when he selected key Wall Street "players" who were instrumental in causing the catastrophe and expecting them to fix it: Summers and Geithner.

Did you honestly expect anything different. President Obama received the record most campaign contributions from Wall Street - he was bought and sold - change we can beleive in yada yada yada.

>>>In contrast, FDR chose a classic populist of a Texas banker, Jesse Jones to run the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (FRC).

Ahhhh yes the beginning of cronyism.

>>>This time around, "compromise" instead of "welcoming their hatred" was the dominant outlook.

No need to compromise with those solidly in your camp - Wall street has always been the friend of the Democrats, just follow the money.

>>>The Democrats were unable, or too intimidated to articulate that essential health care is a fundamental right. As Frank says: "It was as though the old-school liberal catechism had become forbidden language, placed on some index of prohibited thoughts" (p. 169).

The problem with this is that the far left believes that but the majority of Americans do not. Just saying it over and over doesn't make it so. In order to get real about universal health care the left would need to abandon the AMA and the nurses union and get honest about the costs and how to pay for it. It is not revenue neutral without current system and doctors, nurses and other health care professionals will need to take massive pay cuts or we will need a massive tax to pay for it. American people don't like being lied to and currently the left is not willing to tell the truth about costs.

>>>Inexplicably, Frank does not cover the recent countervailing rise of the "Occupy" movement.

The books was probably into editing before the OWS movement got off the ground - however what is there to say they are ignoring the problem and attacking a symptom. Shouldn't it be Occupy congress and get them to do their job?

>>>Frank has written a worthy sequel to "Kansas," a 5-star effort.

Almost anything would have been better to his error ridden "Kansas" book but by looking at your review I don't see much that mimics reality or offers real solutions - just more partisan screed from Frank's I'm afraid.

Cheers

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2012, 2:40:47 PM PST
mtvet says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2012, 10:02:24 AM PST
CCPontiac says:
You seem to forget that, even in the beginning, Democrats did not have a sufficient majority in the Senate to reliably pass legislation, because these days 60 votes are required to agree on "Good Morning," and one of the "Democrats" was Ben Nelson, who more often behaved like a conservative member of the GOP. Our Democratic tent is much larger than that of our counterparts, and, for better or worse, we welcome people with varying views and positions along the political spectrum. While I am as frustrated as many others with some of the progress NOT made, on balance I would prefer inclusion to litmus tests and "purification." Moreover, too many of us create our own difficulties by allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Progress often comes in increments--frequently in tiny ones--and we need to appreciate and support each step along the sometimes-long road, AND KEEP GOING.
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