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How the Democrats Lost Kansas

News at Home




Mr. Frank was born and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City. He is editor of The Baffler magazine and the author of One Market Under God, a study of "New Economy" thinking, and The Conquest of Cool, an examination of the roots of corporate hipsterism. This piece is adapted from his new book, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

That our politics have been shifting rightward for more than thirty years is a generally acknowledged fact of American life. That this rightward movement has largely been accomplished by working-class voters whose lives have been materially worsened by the conservative policies they have supported is a less comfortable fact, one we have trouble talking about in a straightforward manner.

And yet the backlash is there, whenever we care to look, from the"hardhats" of the 1960s to the"Reagan Democrats" of the 1980s to today's mad-as-hell"red states." You can see the paradox first-hand on nearly any Main Street in middle America --"going out of business" signs side by side with placards supporting George W. Bush.

I chose to observe the phenomenon by going back to my home state of Kansas, a place that has been particularly ill-served by the conservative policies of privatization, deregulation, and de-unionization, and that has reacted to its worsening situation by becoming more conservative still. Indeed, Kansas is today the site of a ferocious struggle within the Republican Party, a fight pitting affluent moderate Republicans against conservatives from the working-class districts and the downmarket churches. And it's hard not to feel some affection for the conservative faction, even as you deplore their political views. After all, these are the people that liberalism is supposed to speak to: the hard-luck farmers, the bitter factory workers, the outsiders, the disenfranchised, the disreputable.

Class Warfare

Who is to blame for this landscape of distortion, of paranoia, and of good people led astray? Though Kansas voters have chosen self-destructive policies, it is just as clear to me that liberalism deserves a large part of the blame for the backlash phenomenon. Liberalism may not be the monstrous, all-powerful conspiracy that conservatives make it out to be, but its failings are clear nonetheless. Somewhere in the last four decades liberalism ceased to be relevant to huge portions of its traditional constituency, and we can say that liberalism lost places like Wichita and Shawnee, Kansas with as much accuracy as we can point out that conservatism won them over.

This is due partially, I think, to the Democratic Party's more-or-less official response to its waning fortunes. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that produced such figures as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and Terry McAuliffe, has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues. The larger interests that the DLC wants desperately to court are corporations, capable of generating campaign contributions far outweighing anything raised by organized labor. The way to collect the votes and -- more important -- the money of these coveted constituencies,"New Democrats" think, is to stand rock-solid on, say, the pro-choice position while making endless concessions on economic issues, on welfare, NAFTA, Social Security, labor law, privatization, deregulation, and the rest of it. Such Democrats explicitly rule out what they deride as" class warfare" and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness to business interests. Like the conservatives, they take economic issues off the table. As for the working-class voters who were until recently the party's very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans. Besides, what politician in this success-worshiping country really wants to be the voice of poor people? Where's the soft money in that?

This is, in drastic miniature, the criminally stupid strategy that has dominated Democratic thinking off and on ever since the"New Politics" days of the early seventies. Over the years it has enjoyed a few successes, but, as political writer E. J. Dionne has pointed out, the larger result was that both parties have become"vehicles for upper-middle-class interests" and the old class-based language of the left quickly disappeared from the universe of the respectable. The Republicans, meanwhile, were industriously fabricating their own class-based language of the right, and while they made their populist appeal to blue-collar voters, Democrats were giving those same voters -- their traditional base -- the big brush-off, ousting their representatives from positions within the party and consigning their issues, with a laugh and a sneer, to the dustbin of history. A more ruinous strategy for Democrats would be difficult to invent. And the ruination just keeps on coming. However desperately they triangulate and accommodate, the losses keep mounting.

Curiously enough, though, Democrats of the DLC variety aren't worried. They seem to look forward to a day when their party really is what David Brooks and Ann Coulter claim it to be now: a coming-together of the rich and the self-righteous. While Republicans trick out their poisonous stereotype of the liberal elite, Democrats seem determined to live up to the libel.

Such Democrats look at a situation like present-day Kansas where social conservatives war ferociously on moderate Republicans and they rub their hands with anticipation: Just look at how Ronald Reagan's"social issues" have come back to bite his party in the ass! If only the crazy Cons push a little bit more, these Democrats think, the Republican Party will alienate the wealthy suburban Mods for good, and we will be able to step in and carry places like super-affluent Mission Hills, Kansas, along with all the juicy boodle that its inhabitants are capable of throwing our way.

While I enjoy watching Republicans fight one another as much as the next guy, I don't think the Kansas story really gives true liberals any cause to cheer. Maybe someday the DLC dream will come to pass, with the Democrats having moved so far to the right that they are no different than old-fashioned moderate Republicans, and maybe then the affluent will finally come over to their side en masse. But along the way the things that liberalism once stood for -- equality and economic security -- will have been abandoned completely. Abandoned, let us remember, at the historical moment when we need them most.

Class Rhetoric

The true lesson for liberals in the Kansas story is the utter and final repudiation of their historical decision to remake themselves as the other pro-business party. By all rights the people of Wichita and Shawnee should today be flocking to the party of Roosevelt, not deserting it. Culturally speaking, however, that option is simply not available to them anymore. Democrats no longer speak to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and more arrogant by the day.

The problem is not that Democrats are monolithically pro-choice or anti-school-prayer; it's that by dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans they have left themselves vulnerable to cultural wedge issues like guns and abortion and the sneers of Hollywood whose hallucinatory appeal would ordinarily be far overshadowed by material concerns. We are in an environment where Republicans talk constantly about class -- in a coded way, to be sure -- but where Democrats are afraid to bring it up.

Democratic political strategy simply assumes that people know where their economic interest lies and that they will act on it by instinct. There is no need for any business-bumming class-war rhetoric on the part of candidates or party spokesmen, and there is certainly no need for a liberal to actually get his hands dirty fraternizing with the disgruntled. Let them look at the record and see for themselves: Democrats are slightly more generous with Social Security benefits, slightly stricter on environmental regulations, and do less union-busting than Republicans.

The gigantic error in all this is that people don't spontaneously understand their situation in the great sweep of things. Liberalism isn't a force of karmic nature that pushes back when the corporate world goes too far; it is a man-made contrivance as subject to setbacks and defeats as any other. Consider our social welfare apparatus, the system of taxes, regulations, and social insurance that is under sustained attack these days. Social Security, the FDA, and all the rest of it didn't just spring out of the ground fully formed in response to the obvious excesses of a laissez-faire system; they were the result of decades of movement-building, of bloody fights between strikers and state militias, of agitating, educating, and thankless organizing. More than forty years passed between the first glimmerings of a left-wing reform movement in the 1890s and the actual enactment of its reforms in the 1930s. In the meantime scores of the most rapacious species of robber baron went to their reward untaxed, unregulated, and unquestioned.

An even more telling demonstration of the importance of movements in framing people's perspectives can be found in the voting practices of union members. Take your average white male voter: in the 2000 election they chose George W. Bush by a considerable margin. Find white males who were union members, however, and they voted for Al Gore by a similar margin. The same difference is repeated whatever the demographic category: women, gun owners, retirees, and so on -- when they are union members, their politics shift to the left. This is true even when the union members in question had little contact with union leaders. Just being in a union evidently changes the way a person looks at politics, inoculates them against the derangement of the backlash. Here, values matter almost least of all, while the economy, health care, and education are of paramount concern. Union voters are, in other words, the reverse image of the Brown-back conservative who cares nothing for economics but torments himself night and day with vague fears about" cultural decline."

Labor unions are on the wane today, as everyone knows, down to 9 percent of the private-sector workforce from a high-water mark of 38 percent in the 1950s. Their decline goes largely unchecked by a Democratic Party anxious to demonstrate its fealty to corporate America, and unmourned by a therapeutic left that never liked those Archie Bunker types in the first place. Among the broader population, accustomed to thinking of organizations as though they were consumer products, it is simply assumed that unions are declining because nobody wants to join them anymore, the same way the public has lost its taste for the music of the Bay City Rollers. And in the offices of the union-busting specialists and the Wall Street brokers and the retail executives, the news is understood the same way aristocrats across Europe greeted the defeat of Napoleon in 1815: as a monumental victory in a war to the death.

While leftists sit around congratulating themselves on their personal virtue, the right understands the central significance of movement-building, and they have taken to the task with admirable diligence. Cast your eyes over the vast and complex structure of conservative"movement culture," a phenomenon that has little left-wing counterpart anymore. There are foundations like the one operated by the Kochs in Wichita, channeling their millions into the political battle at the highest levels, subsidizing free-market economics departments and magazines and thinkers. Then there are the think tanks, the Institutes Hoover and American Enterprise, that send the money sluicing on into the pockets of the right-wing pundit corps, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and the rest, furnishing them with what they need to keep their books coming and their minds in fighting trim between media bouts. A brigade of lobbyists. A flock of magazines and newspapers. A publishing house or two. And, at the bottom, the committed grassroots organizers going door-to-door, organizing their neighbors, mortgaging their houses even, to push the gospel of the backlash.

And this movement speaks to those at society's bottom, addresses them on a daily basis. From the left they hear nothing, but from the Cons they get an explanation for it all. Even better, they get a plan for action, a scheme for world conquest with a wedge issue. And why shouldn't they get to dream their lurid dreams of politics-as-manipulation? They've had it done to them enough in reality.

Kansas in the Vanguard?

American conservatism depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet. For example, the connection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservation. Or between the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust -- which forces they praise in the most exalted terms.

In this onrushing parade of anti-knowledge my home state has proudly taken a place at the front. It is true that Kansas is an extreme case, and that there are still working-class areas here that are yet to be converted to the Con gospel. But it is also true that things that begin in Kansas --the Civil War, Prohibition, Populism, Pizza Hut -- have a historical tendency to go national.

Maybe Kansas, instead of being a laughingstock, is actually in the vanguard. Maybe what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading. Maybe someday soon the political choices of Americans everywhere will be whittled down to the two factions of the Republican Party. Whether the Mods still call themselves"Republicans" then or have switched to being Democrats won't really matter: both groups will be what Kansans call"fiscal conservatives," which is to say"friends of business," and the issues that motivated our parents' Democratic Party will be permanently off the table.

Sociologists often warn against letting the nation's distribution of wealth become too polarized, as it clearly has in the last few decades. Societies that turn their backs on equality, the professors insist, inevitably meet with a terrible comeuppance. But those sociologists were thinking of an old world in which class anger was a phenomenon of the left. They weren't reckoning with Kansas, with the world we are becoming.

Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all. The corporate world -- for reasons having a great deal to do with its corporateness -- blankets the nation with a cultural style designed to offend and to pretend-subvert: sassy teens in Skechers flout the Man; hipsters dressed in T-shirts reading"FCUK" snicker at the suits who just don't get it. It's meant to be offensive, and Kansas is duly offended. The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. And when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars' taxes.

As a social system, the backlash works. The two adversaries feed off of each other in a kind of inverted symbiosis: one mocks the other, and the other heaps even more power on the one. This arrangement should be the envy of every ruling class in the world. Not only can it be pushed much, much farther, but it is fairly certain that it will be so pushed. All the incentives point that way, as do the never-examined cultural requirements of modern capitalism. Why shouldn't our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?

________________

Adapted from the Book: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank. Copyright (c) 2004 by Thomas Frank. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC

This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.


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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Interesting and indeed useful food for thought here, but the bottom line implication, that Democrats need to be more demagogic and to dumb down their policies and soundbites still further in order to "compete" with Republicans, is a recipe for a long downward spiral for Dorothy and Toto. It may be that Democrats gave up pursuing class warfare on economic issues in order to court corporate donors. It is more likely however that class warfare was dropped because, as in the Soviet bloc, it doesn't work very wel. over the long haul, for economies in general or for American political movements.

Don't me wrong, there are plenty of very serious, even fatally serious, problems with capitalism, American business, and the Republican Party's current policies, but some kind of mythical Marxian inevitable struggle of the classes is not among those problems.




Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

The mini-bio of Thomas Frank says he "was born & raised in the suburbs of Kansas City." That he's a creature of the city is made evident by his statement in his essay, "...Republicans against conservatives from the working-class districts and the downtown churches."

Here Frank is not talking about the real Kansas, the rural Kansas and the Kansas of small towns. Urban & suburban Kansas City is hardly any different than its peers across the country. For instance, a shopping mall in Shawnee Mission is a look-alike to one in Portland, either Portland, or one in Atlanta or one in Pueblo, Colorado. But rural Kansas is inherently conservative.
For instance, my father a life-long Democrat & once elected mayor of Galena, Kansas would have been horrified at the values pushed by today's Democratic Party and probably would have, as did I, a Democrat for the first several years of my majority, quit the party.

Granted, individual Republicans all too often are unreliable and not to be trusted to stick to priciple when they see a short-term political advantage in abandoning principle. Nonetheless, Yours truly regardless yet a strong fan of J.F.K. & the Camelot-that-seemed-to-be while distrusting the Republicans would not today vote for a Democrat for so much as garbage collector.


Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

What a condescending article!

Kansans are too stupid to vote the way Frank wants them to. Imagine that?

I suspect that Kansans are quite aware of where their bread is buttered. They know that anybody who speaks the neo-Marxist language Frank peddles should be avoided at all costs.

"All the incentives point that way, as do the never-examined cultural requirements of modern capitalism."

You could pull this insipid statement apart a 1,000 ways. Only pointy headed intellectuals would, in fact, find this statement interesting. The rest of us are left to wonder exactly how our "intellectuals" can be so damned dumb and irrelevant. I would ponder this phenomenon in greater depth, but there is no greater depth to ponder.


Jon Rudd - 7/29/2004

Judging by what's been appearing on this board, the evidence is pretty sketchy regarding any participant's knowledge or ignorance of economics(reeling off the names of economists doesn't fall into the category of expertise on the subject).
Besides, one aspect of growing up is learning about the real world in which one lives, and that includes making a living. Admittedly it's only a worm's-eye perspective lacking in the theoretical overview that can only be provided by those academic Guardians so generously bankrolled by alcoholic rentiers and Colorado beer barons. Nevertheless there is something to be said for personal knowledge of how any economy actually works. One could also put in a good word for knowledge of how economies actually worked in the past (this is called historical knowledge, not something normally cultivated in ECON 101). One could even say something nice about knowledge of the economic history of one's own country, in my case the USA (as opposed, say, to Central and Eastern European countries between 1910 and 1945). Sorry, but I'm too much of an American exceptionalist to place unquestioning faith in the opinions of emigres who fled an unprecedented political and moral catastrophe halfway around the world, as much as I can sympathize with them personally. That goes equally for such Frankfurters as Marcuse and Adorno as it does for Hayek, von Mises, Strauss, Rand, Voegelin and their ilk(always wanted an excuse to use the word "ilk").


Grant W Jones - 7/27/2004

Jackson was an genuine liberal.

You grew up, but are still ignorant of economics.


Jon Rudd - 7/27/2004

Got news for you. Waco IS Oz, with Tom Delay as Munchkin-in-Chief. My grandmother--a transplanted Missourian in partibus infidelium--was still alive and well and living in Overland Park KS back in 1964. Miss Gladys was convinced LBJ didn't have a prayer of carrying Kansas that year, but lo, he did (54% of the vote)! Wonders never cease. Anyway, Kansas has been safely in the Christian column ever since.

I can't help but sympathize with those who regard lefties on the Coasts as being patronizing towards the flyover states like Kansas. Trouble is, EVERYONE in the political chattering class--liberal or conservative--is patronizing Middle America. Democrats busy hunting up corporate campaign donors idealize Midwesterners as the populist salt of the earth. Republicans whose personal values are indistinguishable from any MTV-watcher idealize them as bastions of cultural tradition. Who's the more cynical, the liberal who exploits "class warfare" or the conservative who exploits--in those refreshingly candid words of Pat Buchanan--"cultural warfare"? The emotional button-pushing goes on and on, but somehow neither national health insurance nor a Right To Life Amendment ever materializes. Is that, as the vulgar Marxists used to say, "no accident"?


Jon Rudd - 7/27/2004

I didn't know Andrew Jackson was an Austrian.

I read Ayn Rand when I was about 15 and enjoyed her stuff immensely. Then I grew up.


Grant W Jones - 7/26/2004

"What's Austrian for 'laissez-faire?'" Start with Carl Menger then go on to Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, F.A.Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Hans Sennholz and George Reisman.

"Conservatives" share with "liberals" the view that the central government should manage the economy for the common good. They just differ on the policy required to acheive the "common good." What "conservative" advocates eliminating the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard? If someone is not in favor of hard money and opposed to a government controlled central bank and fiat currency, they are not in favor of laissez-faire.

As for Ayn Rand read her essay, "Conservatism: An Obituary."


John Stephen Kipper - 7/26/2004

And all this time I thought that LBJ came from the Hill Country of Texas. I wonder, is Texas closer to Wichita than Oz?


Jon Rudd - 7/26/2004

Did the Democrats ever have Kansas in the first place?
The closest the Democrats ever came to dominating Kansas was the Lecompton Constitution in 1858. Except for the occasional governor and one presidential candidate about every 40 years (last one was LBJ back in 1964, the one before that FDR in 1936), that's about it.
I used to live in Overland Park back in the palmy Eisenhower years when it really was bliss to be alive if you stand those damn chiggers. Some of the nicest people I know live in Kansas. One nice Kansan whom I had the particular pleasure of meeting was none other than Alf Landon. They have every right to their idiotic opinions, especially since I now live 1500 miles away from them. One major point in their favor. They are largely immune to the kind of chickenshit ideologically and politically charged backbiting of the sort that we see in these discussion boards.
Of course they do have this habit of voting Republican, which they have done since the year 4004 BC(did I get the year right?) and which they will no doubt continue to do until...when? Rapture? Of course, exotic brews like Hamm's and Falstaff also go down well in Kansas, once again proving that we live in a richly diverse world full of a blooming buzzing confusion of strange value systems. It follows logically that a guy whom I never could help liking (partly because he lost his arm fighting on the same front my old man served on in WW2) could spend a quarter-century representing solid Kansas values in the US Senate and wind up selling Viagra.
Au fond, I found much that was reasonable in Frank's piece, though like so much of what we're seeing this feverish election year it's too SERIOUS. Though not as serious as some humorless twits I could easily mention but won't. The fact that some people mention the fact that some people have less money than others is of course shocking to some people who would rather not mention it.
But I don't think we should let this stand in the way of appreciating Frank's genuine affection for the subject matter. That may be a bit more important than where Frank is situated on the French-style Left-Right ideological spectrum (never knew that, did you, that the terms originated in the seating arrangements for the goddam FRENCH Assemblee Nationale?).

Anyway, to find a more generous tribute to Kansans in print one would have to go back to Earl Thompson's novel A GARDEN OF SAND, which should be required reading for anyone with pretenses to knowledge about Jayhawkers.


Jon Rudd - 7/26/2004

I keep searching for the place where the author of the article referred to Kansans as rednecks. Can't seem to find it. Hm.

I wonder if the term "neo-Marxism" applies to the sort of populism for which Kansans used to be famous. But I suppose Mary Ellen "Raise Less Corn and More Hell" Lease was a sort of Wheat Belt paleo-Marxist. When we're playing ideological Leggos at Pepperdine we have to get these categories right. There will be a quiz.

I've always wondered what reservations (if any) conservatives do have about laissez-faire capitalism.
By the way, what's Austrian for "laissez-faire"?
Jeepers, I always thought laissez-faire capitalism came to these shores by way of Ayn Rand, who I believe was originally a Russian-type person. Silly me!


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/25/2004

I think those who besmirch the grammar of others would be wise to capitalize the first words in their sentences. I think those who besmirch the grammar of others might be wise not to have those new sentences begin with parenthetical asides. I think those who besmirch the grammar of others ought not to have those parenthetical asides-cum-sentences end with a preposition. I think that those who besmirch the grammar of others ought not then to end that parenthetical aside without a period and yet then capitalize the first word of what we can only presume to be a new sentence.
Fun with grammar, a stone cast from a glass house. Thank you Mr. Henslee. (PS -- isn't "quotation" the noun, quote the verb? And ought there not to be a space between the bracket and the word "That" in your second post? Just askin'.) Perhaps your students are just learning by example. Or perhaps you might acknowledge that being anal retentive and picayune about the grammar of others on HNN comment boards is a nice way to cultivate your own undoubtedly well-earned superiority, but really it just makes you look like an ass. (PS -- I'd have written "an MA," since "m" is pronounced "em." But then, I'm uptight like that.) I hope this post is sufficiently logical and, um, jointed and not at all rambling.
Maybe one of middle America's major complaints about our cultureshould be the dumbing down of our graduate educational system.
dc


Ken Melvin - 7/24/2004

Mr. Melvin refuses to accept the premise that the values and morals of Kansans, Oklahomans, Texans, Alabamians, or Mississippians are superior those of the rest of the nation. In fact, Mr. Melvin thinks these states to be some of the most ignorant, backward states in the nation and doesn't want to see them held up as a standard by the residents, preachers, or the president. Pray tell, what in the hell qualifies people from any of these states, especially states such as Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, to feel morally superior to people from some of the more progressive states?


William A. Henslee - 7/23/2004

I don't think this disjointed, illogical and rambling reply answers my points.

One of Middle America's major complaints about our culture is the dumbing down of our educational system. I see it every day in my graduate classes. ["Professor, you keep talking about WWII. Doesn't that mean there was a WWI?"]That is an absolutely accurate quote from a young teacher in our school system who is working on a MA in History.


William A. Henslee - 7/23/2004

Strange how the Democratic Left, as represented by Mr. Melvin, believes that their voters have a valid common belief system and educated knowledge base. (despite the multiple grammar errors displayed here) As Frank warns however, "...leftists sit around congratulating themselves on their personal virtue."

In contrast, Melvin believes Kansas Republicans have no valid reasons for having values foreign to his. They are merely undeducated "pawns" of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy who merely "pretend to ascribe to their values and culture." Melvin simply proves that a fanatical believer in the "one true faith" (in his case, leftist ideology) must make imbeciles or heretics of everyone else or his own faith crumbles.

This myopia simply proves my point: there is neither understanding nor empathy on the part of the left for the values and culture of Middle America. If they were Arabs, Hottentots, or Amerinds, Melvin would accord their culture and values respect.

However, he neither respects their right to a difference in values nor admits to the possibility that they might have a rational argument on their side.
It's a position that is very "anti-knowledge" and (dare I say it?) against traditional American values.





Ken Melvin - 7/23/2004

Dairy farming involves at least twice the work of wheat or milo farming. You're right, evangelical nut is redundant. See Frank's book for more about the white collar criminals and con artists of KS.

Enjoy:

http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&;b=127960

and

http://billmon.org/archives/001605.html


John Stephen Kipper - 7/23/2004

Just what is your evidence that Kansas has as many crankheads, drunks, sluts as most other places? Is this true in absolute numbers, or in percentage? I am sure that your statement about the numbers of white collar criminals and conmen must be based on percentages of the total population, as surely California, New York, Texas and Florida allmust have a higher absolute number. I don't doubt your word, but documentation would be appreciated. Maybe I should consult the US Census of 2000.

Another question, what exactly is an evangelic nut? Do you have a defintion? Are perhaps John Paul II or Desmond Tutu evangelic nuts? How about Billy Graham or the Reverend Martin Luther King? Or even Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Louis Farrakan?

And what is one to make of your comments about sending men (I noticed that you forgot women. Turn in your feminist credentials immediately.)to war in order to fuel SUV's bigotry and racism? How on earth do you tie these into Frank's argument? Or were you merely trying to establish your credentials? This kind of meaningless blather does nothing to demonstrate nuance. And subtle it ain't.

Finally, I have to ask. You imply that you understand Kansans because 50 years ago you worked on a harvest. Now, some would ask what this experience, so long ago, has to do with modern Kansas, where they make jet airplanes and lunar modules, has any relevance. I won't. I just want to know if you also participated in the bone breaking agony of clearing the fields in the spring, sowing the seeds and weeding and watering and fertilizing the crop. And it is all done without any assurance that the crop will come up. It is a labor of hope and delayed gratification. Harvesting is hard work, no doubt, but it is the end of the process. That is why every agricultural society has a harvest feast. Were you there at the beginning of the cycle, when the rewards are months off? Or were you just there for the good times?


John Stephen Kipper - 7/23/2004

Ms Betts,

I am sure that those people in the single digits who did vote for Nader do not feel the same way about Nader as I do. And they are entitled to their opinion and I respect their vote, even if I do not agree with it.

I am afraid that I misinterpreted your original post. My argument is not with you. Instead, it is with Mr Frank and his argument that people who do not vote according to his interpretation of their economic interests are necessarily being duped by evil conservatives, out to flim-flam them. He completely ignores the fact that many people, wholly sane, articulate and rational cast their votes because of their belief in cultural and spiritual values that the Democratic Party has not only abandoned but actively ridicules and villifies. The Democrats did not lose Kansas because they become too conservative, they lost it becuse they cannot overcome their economic determinism and are incapable of seeing that their anti-religion, anti-traditional patriotism, anti-gun, anti-military (except, of course for intervening in civil wars in the Balkans), pro-abortion and pro-affirmative action policies, all proclaimed in hysterical Basso Profundo alienate a great many potential and former voters. I, for one, am tired of hearing these attacks upon my values. And I am definitely tired of liberal condescension. Your follow-up post makes clear your postion on this issue. We really have no differences here, we both want a choice, not an out of date echo (with apologies to Mr Goldwater).






Grant W Jones - 7/22/2004

The author claims that conservatives adore laissez-faire capitalism "without reservation." Since, I'm sure the author knows the difference between conservatives and libertarians, he is just setting up a strawman. Unless, of course, the author is too ignorant to understand what laissez-faire, by way of Austria, is.

This article is a collection of logical fallicies. Not to mention the author's hyperbolic rhetoric.


Paul Noonan - 7/22/2004

The headnote to the article makes clear that Frank was born and raised in KS; Jane Goodall was not raised by chimps. If he no longer lives there, well, as Marx said: "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen ... the farm" (Marx actually did say that, Groucho Marx, that is).

What this piece doesn't really bring out, but which Frank's recent lecture televised on C-SPAN2 and his recent NY TIMES op-ed piece do, is his theory that Republicans don't actually want to have to deliver on their promises to social conservatives, both because it would alienate moderates and because if they delivered on those promises they would lose their appeal to social conservatives. I think Frank pushes this idea too far, but there is probably some truth to it. So, if Bush and the Republican Congress are re-elected we'll likely get the promised bankruptcy "reform", whereby if you are ruined by medical expenses that are already covered by society in all other western democracies you won't be able to get a fresh start thru bankruptcy (why not just bring back debtor's prisons?), but abortion will remain legal and pronography will remain widely available. (Anyway, as porn becomes more and more the province of mainstream corporate America it seems unlikey the Republicans will be inclined to do anything about it).


Tricia L. Betts - 7/22/2004

"Cannot Ms Betts understand that a great many people do not vote Republican in reaction to Democratic failures but because they believe in the positive Republican message?"

I do understand that people believe the Republicans have a positive message, and I am not about to say that you do not have the right to believe as you do. I have nothing against all of the 'great unwashed people in all those Red states' who vote with their beliefs - in fact, that's great. That is how things are supposed to work. I prefer to respect other people's beliefs, or at least their right to think as they want, even when I don't agree with them. What I WAS trying to say, however, is that people that do -not- agree with the ideals of the right will not start voting with the right simply because the people who are supposedly on the left, the Democrats, take a hard swing right. As I said before. People are not machines. Many liberals who voted for the Democrats in the past because they represented the views of those liberals are not going to keep voting Democrat if the Democrats stop representing their views, which is what I believed Mr. Frank was implying with what I quoted from him.

Furthermore, my point with Nadar is that when people's views are not represented, they will come up with another option. You obviously believe he is a 'snake oil salesman', but I highly doubt the people in those single digits who did vote for him felt the same way as you do, Mr. Kipper.


Ken Melvin - 7/22/2004

Born and raised in a red state adjacent Kansas, worked the wheat harvest there in the late 50s, slept in their fields, ate in their homes, served in the military 6 yrs, marched against Vietnam War, marched against Iraq War, lived all around this nation; I take umbrage at this moral superiority crap. Kansas has as many crankheads, drunks, sluts, and more con artists and white collar criminal than most other parts of the country. Worse yet, along with most of the red states, it has more than its share of evangelical nuts. Kansans' morals (and those of other red states) are no better that those of California or anywhere else in the nation. Goofy and backward does not equate better. Nothing moral or of good value about sending young men to die on the basis of lies, or for oil for SUVs. Nothing good or moral about bigotry and racism. Nothing moral about teaching ignorance to your young.


John Stephen Kipper - 7/22/2004

I have a real problem with this passage:
"While I agree with a lot of what he is saying, I can not agree that people will just act like machines and keep voting Democrat because they are supposed to be liberal, or vote Republican because 'Hey! The Democrats are ignoring me anyway!'."

Cannot Ms Betts understand that a great many people do not vote Republican in reaction to Democratic failures but because they believe in the positive Republican message? Is it so hard to believe that for many of us the values of life and country and religion far surpass what Betts and Franks claim (without consulting us) what our true interests are? No, I am not totally economically motivated although I do intemd to retire comfortably.

Asfor Ms Betts question of what ever happened to the guy who runs all the time, Ralph Nader? Very simple--he keeps losing all the time! Why, because the American people recognize a snake oil salesman when they see him. That is why he has never received over a single digit vote count.

Personally I think that the great unwashed people in all those Red states are frankly quite tired of leftist self-procalimed betters telling us how to think, vote or even plan for our own future. Betts and Frank can take a jump; and this is from a former disciple of Henry Jackson, late Senator from Washington and a great liberal patriot.


Tricia L. Betts - 7/21/2004

"Maybe someday soon the political choices of Americans everywhere will be whittled down to the two factions of the Republican Party. Whether the Mods still call themselves "Republicans" then or have switched to being Democrats won't really matter: both groups will be what Kansans call "fiscal conservatives," which is to say "friends of business," and the issues that motivated our parents' Democratic Party will be permanently off the table."

Pardon me, whatever happened to that guy that runs all the time? Ralph Nadar?

To me, it would seem that we have more than two choices in our election system. No, I am not optimistic enough to think that a third party will win any time soon. But if the Democrats keep sliding more and more right, how long does Mr. Frank think they are going to fool everyone? ... Quite possibly a long time, but certainly not forever. When your other choices are 'conservative but -calls- himself a liberal' and 'really conservative and is proud of it', the real liberals will eventually notice that something smells fishy. Some already have. For someone not associated with either major party, Nadar sure got a large percentage of the national vote.

While I agree with a lot of what he is saying, I can not agree that people will just act like machines and keep voting Democrat because they are supposed to be liberal, or vote Republican because 'Hey! The Democrats are ignoring me anyway!'.

The writer of this post will not say that everyone who votes is an informed voter, but this liberal, at least, isn't going to start voting conservative simply because the two major parties are both on the right. She will instead vote with who holds her views. Which is how a democracy is supposed to work (at least, that's what she was taught in grade school).

I would have Mr. Frank consider something: just because America has historically been a two-party system does not mean that we will continue to be a two-party system indefinitely.


Ken Melvin - 7/21/2004



Been hearing lots about values and culture lately. It is enough to confuse. Recently, when Geo. W. told southerners that Kerry didn't share their values but that he did, I knew how he wanted to return to local control of public housing, medicaid, etc. and I knew and they knew that he wasn't speaking of gentile manners, rather, he was speaking code for the old patronage system of the south when to get a job or assistance of any kind first you had to kiss some local muckety-muck's ass, those good old days of the 50s and past.

I hear people say on TV that getting drunk and fighting is part of their culture, we all know the removal of young girls clitoris is a part of some cultures, so I wonder if communities awash in values and culture spends much time examining the values and culture of other groups, or, do they seek to exclude all alien culture lest it corrupt theirs most pure? What roles do time and progress play in the preservation of values and culture? Power? Is it culture to worry more about the members souls than their physical well being a la McCort's Ireland? To enact laws lest the children learn scientific thinking in school? To preclude thinking?

Be it really so that Kansans vote republican because they resent democrats for not acknowledging their culture and values? Or, do they vote republican because the republicans pretend to ascribe to their values and culture. Perhaps the good working people of Kansas should have a look about, find out who's really setting the agenda for the republican part and make their own assessment as to whether or not that agenda is their best interest (Think they will find the knowledge they need to best evaluate their future interests to be with their pastor or in their churches?). Might want to google up some guys with names like Norquist, Lundt, Rove, Koch, Scaife, Bradley,... to name a few and it wouldn't hurt to review the history of the late 1800s while they are at since that's the avowed ideal America of these fine folk. Could it be that the planners and schemers of the current Republican Party don't give a whit about yours or anyone elses values and culture? That these planners and schemers are using Kansans as but pawns in the pursuit of their agenda?


William A. Henslee - 7/21/2004

I watched this sincere young liberal on the Charlie Rose show the other night, talking about how he'd gone to Kansas and visited in homes, gone to town squares, attended 'their' churches and many other venues where he could observe Kansans. It struck me how much he sounded like a Jane Goodall observing gorillas--a separate species seen through a mist--and trying to 'get it.' Call it the Goodall Syndrome. Can liberals ever really understand this separate species call Middle Americans?

Edward Said, a liberal icon who invented 'orientalism', would recognize the signs--a blind and insensitive misreading of a culture and attempts to 'improve' it by imposing foreign values offensive to the natives.

Frank didn't 'get it' because his worldview doesn't validate any value system that motivates people other than lunchbucket Marxism. He believes that Man DOES live by bread alone. But Kansans, like many others, have other values which are also cherished; values that were once commonly accepted throughout the country.

How can there be understanding, when even a liberal like Frank, who supposedly tries to understand them, calls them "a laugingstock" and labels their values and culture as "anti-knowledge?" The urge to denigrate these people, simply because they don't agree with his analysis of their best interests, seems irresistable.

Like Said's orientalist, Frank doesn't see the Democratic Party with Kansan eyes: "The problem is not that Democrats are monolithically pro-choice or anti-school-prayer." Since Democrats won't let anyone who opposes these cultural positions on their podiums, what other conclusion can Kansans come to? But this is a straw man argument, because Frank surely knows that all Kansans are neither pro-life or for school prayer. It is the overall sneering rejection of middle-America culture by the Democrats that bothers Kansans. Hey, it's fly over country, right?

Furthermore, Kansans see and loathe demonstrations of the cultural values applauded and endorsed by leading Democrats, such as at the recent rally for Kerry where Whoopi entertained the Democratic elite. As Frank noted, "It's meant to be offensive, and Kansas is duly offended. The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year."

Frank tries to blame corporate America for the lowering of standards in movies, TV, recording and retailing--but Kansans know who introduces it, energizes it, and defends it--the Democratic left. Kansans know when someone pisses on their culture and calls it rain. And they show their resentment at the polls.

Frank is right in one respect. To Kansans, the Democrats don't understand or represent them anymore, at least if they are white, males, or religious. "Democrats were giving those same voters -- their traditional base -- the big brush-off."

There IS an economic argument to be made to the Kansans who Frank describes as "the hard-luck farmers, the bitter factory workers, the outsiders, the disenfranchised, the disreputable." However, the Marxist argument about permanent class warfare between the poor and everyone else is not viable any longer, if it ever was. Most people in Middle America believe they will better their economic fortunes at some time in the future.

But they know that optimism isn't true with moral and cultural values, which, once eroded, are irretrieveably lost. And since those values are important to Kansans, they will vote against those who don't respect them.

Lately, Democrats have neither understood, cared about, nor spoken to Middle American cultural and moral values, viewing Middle Americans through a mist of prescribed Democratic dogmas and mantras. And that's how the Democrats lost Kansas.





Ken Melvin - 7/20/2004

"At the east end of town, at the foot of a hill, there's a chimney so tall that says Aragon Mill, but there's no smoke at all coming out the stack for the mill has pulled out and it ain't coming back.", from Hazel Dickens' singing of 'Aragon Mill'.

I like Frank's article, hope to read his book, am glad he penned the both, but he missed seeing the five hundred pound canary. There are less union members because there are less union jobs and they ain't coming back. At the party think tanks and in ivory towers they gaze into crystal balls and see a future with wealth concentrated among fewer and fewer and wonder what to do. Some say that most importantly for the nation to survive we must have law and order (protect property rights) and maintain a strong military (the populace must simply adjust to a reduced standard of living). Some, that it best we look to the needs of the citizenry in general. Beneath these tower window are these thinker's operatives scheming to effect one or another of the dogma (most)whilst feathering their own nest. Not a word of all this will be said to the populace general. Tell them the problem is due some completely separate factor, one on which they most likely hold an opinion. Tell them that this nation is a nation of opinions and those opinions most widely held entitle their holders to impose same on all others. Hell, tell them that their opinions equate and trump the best scientific thinking. How are they know the difference?

To be valid, logic must stand up through extension. Regressive retrogrades void this requirement (they simply posit a pending end of all time), through time dictatorial sorts have distracted the masses from governance failure with calls to patriotism or paranoia, now, we oft hear calling to our competitive spirit, a challenge, in this race to the bottom. None, I've seen withstand the extension test, can be called logical.

Frank speaks to the manipulation of the working class by a calling to their values. The most repulsive of all these has to be these bastards writing books, legislating and governing on the basis that the end is nigh, saying it is best we act to hasten this end, and saying that in the end a few chosen shall watch whilst aperch a cloud as their savior destroys those of other belief. Such bastards are truly amoral. They are criminally insane.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 7/20/2004

"neo-Marxist"
"pointy headed intellectuals"
"so damned dumb and irrelevant"

I would very much to defend this article, but alas, there are no points to counter, no evidence to cite, and no rational reaction. Since this post contains no valid criticism of the actual article, I commend the author for writing a very interesting article that provokes only emotional frustration rather than informed disagreement.


james alan winter - 7/19/2004

Frank misses the mark with his anti-business rant. The enemy of small business (and the independence it gives) is big business. As the retail and entertainment sector gets ever more corporatized, small businesss is replaced by national chains. This is capitalism in action operating against the free market. This contributes to the proletariatization of the middle class and the greater concentration of wealth. Look to Europe or Canada to vibrant small businesss communities that exist within the framework of democratic socialism of those nations.