What's the Matter With Kansas Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) by Tom Frank

The book: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Metropolitan Books, June 1, 2004) [Hardback] by Tom Frank, was entertaining; interesting, satisfying, and affirming In What's the Matter with Kansas Frank's premise, in a nutshell, is that middle-to-low income citizens of Kansas (and by association other places in America as well) have been seduced for at least three decades (and counting; thus Frank's term "thirty-year backlash," although counting from 1968 and Richard Nixon's successful "silent majority" campaign, that actually understates the truth) by the Republican social agenda: e.g., abortion; gun control, 'family values', etc. Pithy pitches (of the conservative sort; Democrats seem to lack any knack for this) have seduced many Kansans (and others) who can ill afford to vote Republican, financially speaking, to do so anyway. The Republican key to election success (and Democratic candidates let Republican ones get away with this) is to carefully avoid any political discussion of class.

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) traces, from both the personal (i.e., see pp. 151- 160, especially) and political perspectives of its Kansas-born author, and from a political perspective especially, the historically populist state's unlikely trek down the seductively inviting red brick road of social conservatism based on anything but the economic issues and realities (pp. 13-65). As Frank suggests, so important has it been among even non-wealthy Kansans (the majority) to think themselves other than "liberal" these past few decades that they consistently vote against Democrats that would better protect their own personal and economic interests.

The real value of Frank's book for me was that it clearly explained something I have always found baffling: how and why historically so many working and middle-class Americans have regularly allowed Republican social agendas to trick them into voting against themselves and their own social class (pp. 13; 28; 67-77; 89-100). Voting "red" can only (and does) actually hurt Kansas families (and others): "those unpretentious millions of authentic Americans" (p. 13), as Frank observes. Voting Republican threatens their born or unborn babies' health care and well-being. It nudges them closure to foreclosure, on the very homes in which they store (too often even more carelessly and dangerously than they vote) their precious guns.

Within What Happened to Kansas (2004) Frank's cogent analysis of how and why so many once-middle-of-the-road Kansans (and other Americans) those "unpretentious millions of authentic Americans (p. 13) began, around the time of the 1968 presidential election, as members of then-Republican Presidential nominee Richard Nixon's "silent majority," eschewing Democrats and the party itself as flag-burning; slogan-chanting; draft-dodging; scruffy looking hippie types - lunatic fringe-type people "other" than them. Nearly 40 years later, as Frank also points out, that same Republican-masterminded first false impression, 'Democrat as other' lingers, at enormous class (working; middle) cost to those who can least afford to self-identify thus. Still, they vote with Bill Gates in order to protect a future fetus unknown to them or put a foot down about anymore illegal immigrants sneaking across borders thousands of miles away. Anything but (Heaven forbid) be a 21st century "latte liberal"! (Frank, p. 15)

The actual pejoratives used today to describe Democrats as "other" have changed, considerably. More recently for example (I am thinking of the 2004 Presidential election era perhaps the five or six before it) to be a male (i.e., east coast effete) Democrat is not so much to have the girlish "hippy" look of the 1960s, but to 'eat quiche' or 'drink white wine' (as in a [very minor] cultural classic of the 1990's with the title Real Men Don't Eat Quiche). Male Democrats are still 'other' these days because they are intellectual snobs out of touch with regular folks, e.g., John Kerry types. Real men, on the other hand, are George W. Bush types hanging out at barbecues gobbling beef ribs, huge rings of sweat beneath their blue-shirted arms.

In 1968 female Democrats used to be bra burners. Now they are Hillary-types: left-leaning, career-centric; refusing to ever make cookies or have teas.

Meanwhile the young Kansas minimum wage worker and the older struggling Kansas farmer alike (the latter of whom may even know intellectually that a Republican-dominated government will typically favor the special interests of the wealthy, not him) will both vote Republican, equally seduced by, say, a combination of conservative talk radio (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) and the misguided notion "tax-and-spend liberals" will snatch what they do have of the good life. Meanwhile, "tax and spend Republicans" of which President George W. Bush is a real grand champion, in all reality, continue daily to do exactly that, and, moreover, with plenty of help from the very less-than-wealthy Americans who ought to be fighting hardest against the republican economic agenda in particular. Toward that end, another key point of Frank's, that "systematic erasure of the economic" within today's political discourses have been replaced with social issues talk from the right that has somehow manages to hold average and low income peoples' attention, and far more dangerously, to foster within them enough self-righteousness social indignation to vote Republican.

Democrats are partly to blame though, Frank adds, (pp. 157-177; 180-190). Consistently, their election strategies are "criminally stupid," the stupidest aspect of which is that Democrats themselves lave long ceased campaigning on or even discussing the issues of financial status and social class that would or at least should help them win (see also pp. 13-15). Frank, himself a one-time young Kansas neo-conservative, has recognized, as he tells us very early on in the book (pp. 13-27), the error of his past ways. These, Frank explains, speaking both of his former self and myriad other Kansans once sincerely inspired by "silent majority" rhetoric; the "Reagan Revolution" and soothing crossover talk from the 1980's, are things of the past for him, as they should be for other Kansans; political conservatism, especially given the more recent turns it has taken, has been, is, and will continue to be bad economic [and other] news for average Kansans (and average Americans everywhere else). Further, Frank argues, American-style conservatism in general has grown much more overtly right-wing and overzealous on a handful of concerns while ignoring others, i.e., focusing much of its attention on single moral issues, e.g., abortion. True, implies Frank, such moral issues, e.g., Evangelicals-led 'family values' talk, including opposition to abortion; lobbying against gun control; post-911 War Against Terrorism matters designed to sooth fears about family and personal safety (for example) may have captured Republican-voting Kansans' hearts and even, unfortunately, their minds.

Frank therefore wishes every Kansan still following that red-brick-road would wake up in Kansas itself, for good. Then currently misguided Kansans might see the wisdom and efficacy of minding their back yards instead of strangers' fetuses, and doing more to protect their own current and future financial assets, not those of Dick Cheney. That, Frank asserts, would be to move toward optimal economic benefit in the 21st century for the state and its largely working-class rural population, and for that matter, many others similarly and chronically misguided.

Based on reading Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) combined with my own understanding (i.e., from the course text; newspapers; paying more attention generally, and scrutinizing more analytically in particular the recent 2006 elections and their aftermath) of America's political system, I interpret Frank's analysis of the Republican political affinity within Kansas to be astute. I also agree with Frank's assessment of Kansas's conservatism as economically self-defeating. Frank makes a case for the tricky seductiveness of the Republican social agenda, thereby, I believe, also shedding light with why so many Kansans (and others) stubbornly identity with a political party whose true agenda, an economic one, is very unlike their own, or how they own should be.

Because What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America was written in 2004 author Tom Frank obviously does not account for the 2006 midterm House and Senate elections, and what new this may possibly say about America and American voters (even Kansan ones). In Kansas Democrat Nancy Boyda, after all, defeated 5-term Republican incumbent Jim Ryun 51% to 47% for a House seat; and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius was re-elected Governor ("United States House Elections, 2006"). In my view, though, American voters in general are a complacent, slow-thinking lot: something Frank repeatedly also suggests (although usually more politely than this). What was finally seen by a majority of Americans in many places (albeit very often a thin one) in 2006 should have been painfully obvious way back in November 2004, if not much earlier than that. It may or may not take a whole village (the average Kansan would have doubted this when Hillary first said it), to raise a child; however, apparently it takes real tin man-mindless in Republican leadership (years of it) to resurrect, and even then stubbornly, a (Kansas) Democrat.…

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