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"What's the Matter With Kansas" by Thomas Frank

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How did a state where large numbers of farmers once marched in protest against the abuses of big banks become a state in which the big banks and super rich can do no wrong? Anyone who wants to know how pro-plutocrat conservative politicians and talking heads engineered the total compliance of a majority of social conservative voters, should read this book.


Published in 2004, "What's the Matter With Kansas" is a seminal polemic that shows how a "systematic erasure of the economic" from discussions of class and its replacement with a notion of "authenticity," whereby "there is no bad economic turn a conservative cannot do unto his buddy in the working class, as long as cultural solidarity has been cemented over a beer." But tribalism does not stop at identification with the 'real people', the down to earth, the culturally genuine. Tribal recognition extends to a set of carefully inculcated wedge issues.


In Kansas politics, economic parity no longer exists as a point in question. It has been replaced by emotionally involving but relatively unimportant wedge issues, blown out of proportion, which keep the electorate distracted. Abortion.... Gun Freedom.... Xenophobia.... Anti intellectualism.... Anti science. The conservatives of Kansas have been led to believe they are the victims of uppity, highly placed snobs who would rob them of their freedoms. Science and scientists are the butt of jokes. The liberal Hollywood elite are seen as persecutors. 'Liberals' are objects of scorn.


These issue determine how Kansas conservatives vote. There is no consideration of their own deteriorating financial positions. They no longer feel that politics has any bearing on the material interests of themselves and those they love. Except that laissez faire capitalism and totally free enterprise can only be a force for good.



Frank has written for publications like Harper's and The Nation He knows Kansas and its people. He gives us a glimpse of his early conservative beliefs and how they changed. He provides the reader with many interviews and personal narratives. The book is rich with descriptions of ordinary neighborhoods, rich enclaves, cities and the countryside.


If I have a criticism of this book, it would be that Frank doesn't provide any comprehensive plan to reverse the situation. Mainly, he says that liberals need to start emphasizing the economic aspect of politics. He finally got his wish in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders with whom he has a strong affinity.


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