The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What's the matter with Thomas Frank?

A friend and I took in a lecture by Thomas Frank the other day. He’s the author of “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” the premise of which is that Kansans vote against their economic interests and instead concentrate on meaningless culture war issues, and this is the fault of slick Republican media manipulation.

Frank is an engaging speaker with a good sense of humor, and he is never boring. There were a lot of head nodders at the lecture, but I had some issues with a few points.

Franks claimed that Republicans have succeeded in casting Democrats as elitists. He then proceeded to cite Paul Krugman (actually he cited this questionable Paul Krugman column), and imply that Kansans were underinformed because of the conservative presence in the editorial section of the New York Times (Tom Friedman, for instance). There are so many problems with these two statements that it caused me physical pain.

He blamed the media for labeling Kerry as a rich elitist while the equally rich Bush was viewed as a “regular guy.” I agree that Bush is not a regular guy, but the constant attempts to label bush as “stupid” probably helped his credibility in this department, and certainly set off Kerry as an egg head (and yes, I do find it disturbing that the former is seen as good and the latter is seen as bad). Basically, turning Bush into regular guy seemed to me to be the Democrats’ plan.

He made a good point that Republicans often preach against the culture of victimhood while simultaneously portraying themselves as victims of the judicial system, the main stream media, and anti-religious bigotry. Then he screwed up his good point by claiming, just two sentences later, that Kansans are victims of Republican economic policies, and only vote for Republicans because, get this, they convince Kansans that they are victims of liberal policies. This logic is truly dizzying.

He stated that corporations have unprecedented power today, (I disagree, the robber-baron era had more), and maybe he has a point, but his prescribed treatment was to enlarge the government. How does that help people gain power? Government, Mr. Franks, does not equal “the people.”

He was also in favor of more stringent campaign finance laws to get the money out of politics. It worked so well last time.

I didn’t expect Franks to be balanced, but I was looking for a more in-depth explanation. How do you know that Republican policies have been bad for Kansas, other than casual observation? How do you know the free market won’t work in a certain situation? Why do you focus on Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as the most influential carriers of conservative thought? Why do you stick to mentioning the extremely right wing Gary Bauer and Rick Santorum as examples of Republican legislators?

Franks seemed to dance around the fact that he has genuine disdain for his home state, and this forces him to play the victim game. After all, if winning the Red States is as simple as appealing to the tastes of hicks and rednecks on culture war issues, what is to stop the Democrats (the southern Democrats, anyway) from adopting those culture war stances? Franks insists that garnering any change on issues like abortion or gay marriage is impossible, a red herring to lure in the unsophisticated.

But it is Republicans that have convinced Kansans that Democrats are elitists.


Update: Reason, on class warfare.

Update II: Book review here.


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