What's the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank: Summary and Response
What's the Matter with Kansas? Eh?
Right, so, what’s the matter with Kansas? It would seem that people like Thomas Frank are certainly part of what’s the matter with Kansas. He talks about how conservative Right-wingers have co-opted the sense of victimization used by the Left to appeal to the poorer folks - the people’s party is now the Republicans, a situation full of heavy, almost incomprehensible irony. This is the shift from “emphasizing fiscal sobriety [to a backlash that] mobilizes voters with explosive social issues” (5) that so many liberals I know are complaining about. Frank points this out as entirely counter-intuitive and ridicules those who "fall for it" as, among other things, "deranged" (please note his ‘backlash theorists’ paragraph on the 7th page). And while before reading this book I shared his puzzled incredulity (honestly, don't they see that the Republicans are using them? And that Republican policies are completely at odds with the well-being of the, um, 'economically disadvantaged'?)
But well before I’d finished the book I found myself developing a strong protective instinct towards these constantly manipulated and patronized “middle Americans.” If I were ever confronted by such a condescending, disdainful goon I would no doubt have a similar reaction- and Goody Frank is certainly not the only condescending and disdainful goon from the Left to target the blue-collar Midwesterner Republicans, so is it such a surprise that they didn’t turn their backs (despite my personal feelings) on a president who did nothing (economically) for them? While I’m not positive re: the success rate, Bush seems to be providing them with a sense of pride in ‘who they are’n’where they come from’. Granted it seems to be a manipulative farce, but apparently it connects with ‘em on some level.
Personal feelings aside, Frank neglected to give poorer conservatives any credit whatsoever and made the ‘cultural rift’ look to be unbridgeable. I think that if it’s understood that conservatives are more than “deluders or deluded, knaves or fools” we might possibly be able to advance past the shaking head/throwing up arms stage and into a place where some sort of intelligent discussion can take place. Possibly. The loggerheads give me migraines. I can understand electing Bush once, but twice?? Inexplicable.
Regardless, I’m somewhat taken by what Frank's argument might mean as far as larger political and social trends go—if he’s right, and lower class whites are ‘defaulting to the Other Side,’ then an argument could be made that the class divisions in politics are shrinking (to be replaced by what? the cynic in me asks).
As for how much power the public does in fact have, I would be more interested in looking past the power to elect and paying more attention to less direct policy influences. Conspiracy theories aside, our power to elect is certainly there—though whether or not we know what we want is another question entirely.
What Do You Think?
Thomas Frank was writing during Bush II. But where are political lines drawn in the upcoming election? Do you think that the people Frank discusses (poor and lower-middle-class religious conservatives in the mid-West) have been able to trade their political support for more policy influence now? What do you think it would take to bring legitimate policy discussion back to national politics?