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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How…

What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

by Thomas Frank

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I read the introduction and first chapter. The two main points were (1) Republicans manage to frame themselves as the victims, even when they're in power, and (2) Republicans convince people to vote against their own financial interest by bringing social issues to the forefront.


People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. (1)

Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends. (5)

The [backlash] movement's basic premise is that culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern - that Values Matter Most....Values may "matter most" to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won. (6)

It's pretty much a waste of time...to catalog the contradictions and tautologies and huge, honking errors blowing round in a media flurry like this. The tools being used are the blunt instruments of propaganda, not the precise metrics of sociology. (19)
  JennyArch | Nov 22, 2014 |
Highly readable and extensively footnoted, which is not a contradiction. A very sensible explanation of what drives the radical right and far less depressing to read in an Obama administration, even if it a centrist one. Lots of the history of Kansas politics is interesting and the ravings of various earnest crackpots, some famous and some not.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
This was originally published in 2004, so it's definitely dated, but I'd say it's still relevant. Perhaps depressingly relevant.

Thomas Frank ponders the fact that, once upon a time, it was considered almost self-evident that the Democratic party was the party of the ordinary working stiff. But that's changed fairly dramatically, especially in places like Frank's former home state of Kansas, where there has been a great and passionate upsurge in right-wing sentiment among people whose economic self-interest would not seem to be in alignment with the Republican's policies of tax breaks for the rich and minimal support for the rest of us. What gives? Frank claims that it's largely down to the far right's politicians who, capitalizing on backlash against the social upheavals of the 1960s, have reframed the conservative vs. liberal dichotomy as a cultural one -- beer-drinking, NASCAR-loving, churchgoing salt-of-the-earth Plain Folks vs. latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, morally permissive, snootily superior elites -- while sidelining the economic issues almost entirely, deliberately focusing attention on such issues as abortion or the teaching of evolution in schools, and away from questions of material benefit.

I am weirdly torn, here, between finding this thesis oversimplistic and perhaps just a little too cynical (although we are talking about politicians, here, so maybe not all that overly cynical) and thinking it's obvious enough to almost not require spelling out. I do think some of his commentary and opinions are more lucid than others (not to mention more sensitively expressed), but overall, I'd say he does have some things to say about the origins of America's current Red vs. Blue conflict that are worth listening to. ( )
2 vote bragan | Jun 5, 2013 |
very unsatisfying. I'd be glad to understand why Kansas-type conservatives think the way they do, but I found this book long on judgement and anecdote and short on analysis. As a liberal, I really hate reading liberal writing that just assumes we're right and our opponents are idiots; I want level-headed, sociological analysis. So that I can conclude on my own that, well, we're right and our opponents are idiots. ( )
1 vote lxydis | May 11, 2013 |
Thomas Frank argues that modern conservatism is essentially a bait-and-switch: the social grievances of the many are used to produce immense wealth for the few. Republican politicians campaign on social issues, but their legislative agenda is mainly economic. Their lack of progress in the culture wars means that voters’ social complaints grow and grow, which of course makes them more and more conservative; meanwhile, the Party’s very substantial progress on the economic front keeps the businessmen loyal (and the money flowing).

All of this is able to happen because Democrats have either fallen silent about, or moved to the right on, economic issues. The relatively small (or at least muted) differences between the parties mean that many voters aren’t able to draw an informed distinction between them. Thus, they cast their ballots in the areas where they *can* see a difference: social and cultural issues.

I try to read almost everything with a critical eye, but I ended up finding very little here with which to quarrel. That in itself would be reason enough for me to recommend this book; as an added bonus, Franks is witty, direct, and sympathetic to the complaints—if not the choices—of the people he’s describing. The writing is solid; the anecdotes are well-chosen; the tone is exactly right. And because the subject here is a long-term trend, I think the book holds up pretty well today—even though our politics in 2011 are of course very different from our politics in 2004.

I’m not sure how well Franks’ theory explains the Tea Party—they talk about fiscal issues a lot more than most of the people in this book—but then, I think they’re mostly framing the debt as a cultural rather than economic issue. (Real Americans don’t spend money they don’t have, etc.) More importantly, it may be that they’re a little more white-collar than the men and women he’s considering here. ( )
2 vote LorenIpsum | May 31, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Frank's book is remarkable as an anthropological artifact. Although not terribly successful at explaining the cultural divide, it manages to exemplify it perfectly in its condescension toward people who don't vote as Frank thinks they should.
added by mikeg2 | editNew York Times, Josh Chafetz (Jun 13, 2004)
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Oh, Kansas fools! Poor Kansas Fools!
The banker makes of you a tool.
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The poorest county in America isn't in Appalachia or the Deep South.
In the back-lash imagination, America is always in a quasi state of Civil War.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080507774X, Paperback)

The largely blue collar citizens of Kansas can be counted upon to be a "red" state in any election, voting solidly Republican and possessing a deep animosity toward the left. This, according to author Thomas Frank, is a pretty self-defeating phenomenon, given that the policies of the Republican Party benefit the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the average worker. According to Frank, the conservative establishment has tricked Kansans, playing up the emotional touchstones of conservatism and perpetuating a sense of a vast liberal empire out to crush traditional values while barely ever discussing the Republicans' actual economic policies and what they mean to the working class. Thus the pro-life Kansas factory worker who listens to Rush Limbaugh will repeatedly vote for the party that is less likely to protect his safety, less likely to protect his job, and less likely to benefit him economically. To much of America, Kansas is an abstract, "where Dorothy wants to return. Where Superman grew up." But Frank, a native Kansan, separates reality from myth in What's the Matter with Kansas and tells the state's socio-political history from its early days as a hotbed of leftist activism to a state so entrenched in conservatism that the only political division remaining is between the moderate and more-extreme right wings of the same party. Frank, the founding editor of The Baffler and a contributor to Harper's and The Nation, knows the state and its people. He even includes his own history as a young conservative idealist turned disenchanted college Republican, and his first-hand experience, combined with a sharp wit and thorough reasoning, makes his book more credible than the elites of either the left and right who claim to understand Kansas. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:05 -0400)

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Reveals how conservatism became the preferred national political ideology, exploring the origins of this philosophy in the upper classes and tracing its recent popularity within the middle class.

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