Book #11 (February 28, 2010): What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank
Thomas Frank’s 2005 book tackles what is for me the single most baffling issue in American politics today: Why do working class Americans persistently vote for Republican candidates when this is patently against their economic interests? Republicans are the party of big business. They work for tax cuts and deregulation, policies that often hurt those at the lower end of the economic scale. Why, then, is it those very people at the lower end of the economic scale who have become their most passionate supporters? He uses as an example the state of his birth: Kansas. (Frank, a journalist, currently lives in Chicago.) A century ago Kansas was a breeding ground for radical progressives; now it’s deeply conservative and deeply Republican. Much of the state, at least in Frank’s description, has been stripmined economically by large corporations like Con Agra and Boeing, yet the poorest Kansans vote for the very politicians who are in the hip pockets of these corporations. Frank suggests that the wealthier Republicans cynically manipulate the vote by creating an unwinnable class war against elitist liberal strawmen who resemble real liberals less than they resemble the moderate Republican elitists who benefit from this deception. Although in the end Frank spreads some of the blame to Democrats who have backed away from their own values and begun vying for the business vote themselves, most of his snark is reserved for what the Republicans have done to the people of his former state, largely with their acquiescence.
Frank is a sharp, witty writer and the book isn’t the dry political screed that it really ought to have been. (Thank God.) I think I’ve maxed out on politics for the moment, though. When I recover there are some other books along this line that I may read, including a more recent title by Frank that looks interesting (The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation). I can hope that by then the American public will have regained its sanity, but I’m really not holding my breath.