What’s the Matter with Kansas?, by Thomas Frank


Book 28

It is no secret that my politics are sometimes confused. I have been known to vote for people because I just them better. My initial dislike of Bill Clinton was really dislike of his wife. So…as fickle as the next lazy American. On top of that, I was raised in Cook County, where politicians were either part of the Chicago machine or they were Republicans. So we were Republicans.

My father, who is the very definition of the lily-livered, East Coast hippie/yuppie, called himself an Independent. But he voted for Republicans the entire 20 years he lived in Cook County.

But for the past several years, I have listened to the Republicans and wondered what in the hell has happened. So I read, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, by Thomas Frank.

Frank isn’t exactly talking about me – voting for Republicans even when I believe rather strongly in a woman’s right to choose and a homosexual’s right to marry. He is talking about the working class and small farmers in Kansas, once a “hotbed of radicalism” and wondering how they all became Republicans when to do so is absolutely opposed to their economic interests.
The answer is, in a word, backlash.

The entire time I was reading this, I remembered Michael Douglas giving a speech in the press room in the film The American President. He said that the other guy was only interested in “Two things..making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.” Apparently, a bunch of really rich old men have picked up this mantle of conservatism, knowing that they are never going to win back Roe v. Wade, to hoodwink the masses into voting to make them richer. The fact that they are never going to win back Roe v. Wade means they will forever be the individualistic underdogs. They will be forever under attack by the haughty Ivy league types, and that suits their purpose just fine.

A lot of time is spent in this book on the abortion issue. I was fascinated because I remember voting for Bush I in 1992, mostly because I didn’t like Bill Clinton. I was asked several times how I could do such a thing when President Bush was against abortion. First, I would make a joke about how Barbara would never let him cross the rhetorical line, then I would say something like, “The Supreme Court has already ruled. No one is going to take away my right to choose, so I will not be making this an issue when I vote.”

That was sincere. Arrogant, but sincere. What I didn’t realize at the time is that people have found ways to chip away at Roe v. Wade. It took 30 years, but the court swung in the other direction and limits have been placed. I’m not saying that there isn’t a point in a pregnancy where it is just too late to change one’s mind. I’m not making a statement on whether that point should or shouldn’t be legislated. I’m saying that I don’t think those lawsuits were making an honest effort to find the line. I think they were just trying to chip away at Roe v. Wade.

Anyway. The theory is that the way the Republicans pulled off this coup was to stop talking about economics per se and create an anti-intellectualist class war. By the end of the book, the argument was getting heavy handed, but I am buying it. Frank makes a bunch of interesting points, but one stand out: He says that if you ask the Democrats how it happened, they will say that it is really just racism by another name. Frank disagrees. Kansas isn’t racist, he says. They don’t care a thing about race, as long as one goes to the right church.

This week, I read this book and watched three poli-sci lectures on Academic Earth. I must go back to the novels now.

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