Friday, May 02, 2008

Book Review: What's the Matter With Kansas

What's the Matter With Kansas, by Thomas Frank

Frank chose to look at Kansas for a number of reasons, not the least of which was it was where he grew up. Another is Kansas is often seen as authentically middle American. It has seen the economic damage done by Republican policies as much or more that any other area. The downtowns of the small towns are virtual ghost towns, while Mission Hills, has returned to the glory it was in the 1920's. In the early 1990's there was a grass roots revolt of socially conservative voters that transformed the state's politics. Finally, Frank claims that racism has virtually nothing to do with the economic inequality. He does say that race does have an effect elsewhere, but due to Kansas' history as a free state counterweight to slave state Missouri, it doesn't have much of an effect.

Before reading the book, my impression was that the fiscal conservative branch of the Republican party (or moneycons for short) were some how subverting the the social conservatives (or theocons) into voting against their own economic interests. But, it Kansas, it didn't turn out that way. It was the theocons, as a grass roots movement, that drove out the more socially liberal moderate Republicans out of the party. Kansas Republicans had a history of moderation and pragmatism. This was all kicked to the curb. The theocons pushed all sorts of religious kookery, which when you get down to it is basically ineffective. All along they kept the moneycon issues of taxation, breaks to corporations, etc, intact. This in contrast to a 100 years ago where you had William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist Christian, but economically quite progressive. This is a political area (social conservative, fiscally liberal) that is empty now a days. This was all helped along by conservative pundits pushing the idea that these authentic Kansans were victimized by the liberal bogeyman. Frank doesn't really get to the root of the issue until the last chapter. Here he blames the New Democrat movement. The DLC's idea of triangulation on fiscal issues made the only way to differentiate between Democrats and Republicans was on social issues. So wedge issues were a successful way to capture potential Democratic voters. He does concede that with Democrats in charge you won't get screwed quite as badly as with Republicans.

I'd still like to see some explanation of why socially conservatives, buy in to the full moneycon party line. These are the issues that I don't see as having a particular Christian viewpoint: taxes, global warming, environmentalism, war in Iraq, socail spending. It's almost as if liberals are for it, then conservatives (of all stripes) have to be against it.

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