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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

The Great Delusion: Republicans as the 'People's Party'

There¿s a paradox abroad in land that has troubled many thoughtful people for many years. On the one hand, workers¿ wages, in real terms, have been stagnant for two decades, despite strong productivity growth throughout the economy we continue to hemorrhage manufacturi...
There¿s a paradox abroad in land that has troubled many thoughtful people for many years. On the one hand, workers¿ wages, in real terms, have been stagnant for two decades, despite strong productivity growth throughout the economy we continue to hemorrhage manufacturing jobs (and now even white-collar jobs) to outsourcing--including the latest twist, offshoring, which consists of parking boats offshore filled with low-wage computer workers who replace Americans on the land income inequality has reached obscene levels and we still don¿t have even a semblance of a national health-care safety net for the millions of people without insurance. On the other hand, we continue to elect conservative Republican politicians who, once in office, cut taxes for the rich, cut regulations on big business, and trumpet a mantra of laissez-faire, free-market capitalism that makes the rich richer and washes the losers out the bottom end. In this widely acclaimed book, Thomas Frank examines his home state of Kansas to see if he can unravel the problem (the book, published in 2004, predates the Democrats¿ regaining control of both the House and Senate in 2006--more on that later). What he finds is that through the ¿erasure of economics¿ from public debate and the substitution of hot-button cultural issues, the Republicans (with little resistance from the Democrats) have achieved the astounding feat of convincing average Americans, even those hurt or displaced by pro-business government policies, that they are the party of the little guy, with liberals being tarred as pampered, over-educated, elitist snobs who have lost touch with ¿real¿ Americans but who continue to pull the strings from on high while also being responsible for the cultural decay the conservatives see all around them. To further the irony, Frank points out that the issues emphasized by the far right conservatives--abortion, ¿family values,¿ prayer in the schools and the teaching of alternatives to evolution, gay marriage, violence and sleaze in the mass media, etc.--are largely things about which little or nothing ever gets done or can be done. And that¿s the way the conservatives like it. Helping us average Joes in any material way might blunt the sharp edge of the culture war, which is what keeps them in power and which thus needs to be unending. As one of Frank¿s chapter headings states, we seem to be ¿happy captives¿ in a medieval system in which everyone is supposed to know his or her place and not complain about such touchy subjects as income inequality or the rapacity of large corporations. ¿Backlash conservatives,¿ Frank writes, ¿deal in outrage, not satisfaction,¿ based on a worldview that is highly anti-intellectual and almost entirely emotional in its appeal. As an example of the ¿real¿ real world, Frank studies Johnson County, Kansas, where he finds two types of conservatives, which he calls the Mods and the Cons (moderate and far-right or cultural conservatives, respectively). He traces how, over the past four decades the Cons have systematically elbowed out the Mods everywhere from county party chairs to the U.S. Senate. And, yet he finds two Johnson Counties in an economic sense as well: ¿One Johnson county lives in landscaped cul-de-sac communities with statuary in the traffic islands and a swimming pool behind each house,¿ while ¿the other Johnson County is a place of peeling paint and cheap plywood construction with knee-high crabgrass.¿ Strangely, it is the latter Johnson County that is inhabited by the Cons. Meanwhile, the Mods (the ¿haves¿) pay lip service to the culture war because it elects conservative politicians, who then get down to the business of doing good things for business. Frank lays the blame for the plight of the common people mainly on the fact that through the red-herring issues of the culture war they have been hoodwinked into accepting a less and less regulated free-market system that is often their worst enemy, even as it contin

posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

Not truthful

Bottom Line: if Molly Irvins likes it, it's filled with lies.

posted by DareHoldren on January 6, 2012

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    Posted October 23, 2009

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    Posted August 1, 2009

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