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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Paperback – Apr 14 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1 edition (April 14 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507774X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805077742
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #121,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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The poorest county in America isn't in Appalachia or the Deep South. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gene Brass on July 19 2004
Format: Hardcover
Yes, but in time-honored pop-Marx fasion, Frank considers all non-economic moral concerns as mere epiphenomena riding lightly atop bedrock economic realities. Whereas the pro-life folks he so contemptuously dismisses as too stupid to know their own material interests consider abortion, in some perhaps inchoate way, as morally equivalent to murder. This point is obviously debatable, indeed the eternal debate, but the profound gulf between "you vote against your own well-being" and abortion as murder is, I think, somewhat more than a P.R. con job by the proverbial "Wall Street Bankers". And isn't it ironic that many dismiss any criticism of this text as automatic confirmation of its main thesis, without engaging the substance of the argument.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan on July 16 2004
Format: Hardcover
How can it be that substantial segments of the working class have become the allies of elite market conservatives in a largely successful drive to turn the American political system to the right, where government is held to be, at best, undesirable. That is what Thomas Frank seeks to understand. There is no economic rationale to this confluence; it is a subjective, value-driven phenomenon. It seems as though many working people have been subtly persuaded by elites that they must defend or establish a set of values supposedly not shared by morally challenged liberals. But elevating personal values as the chief concern of politics seems to be contrary to American tradition. Call it what you will, value or principle, but the foremost idea of the American founding was a profound belief in freedom: to make all manner of personal choices in life, to participate in self-government, and to be free from subtle and overt coercion from powerful public and private entities. It was a clear rejection of old-world aristocratic and church control of society. Instead, the nation was seen to rest on virtuous, engaged small, independent producers and farmers.
However, as the author points out, it was precisely the slippage of that ideal that spurred the populist movement of the 1890s in Kansas and throughout the South and West. A largely farming population saw the power of large business interests to control prices and to influence the federal government to maintain hard currency policies as destructive of a way of life as independent produces. They advocated for substantial governmental intervention in the economy to combat this loss of freedom. As the author notes, it was a movement of "producers versus parasites.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K. Bruffett on July 16 2004
Format: Hardcover
Frank writes well and assembles some interesting profiles, but he also makes some assumptions typical of certain folks on the left -- mainly, that they know what is better for the "working class" than the working class itself does. He's also banking that his readers will share some erroneous assumptions, based on incomplete or incorrection information, about Kansas.
Never mind the fact that many people -- of all political stripes -- vote for reasons other than pure economic self-interest. But even the economic reality of Kansas is distorted. For example, an earlier reviewer from IL implies Kansas is poor, but Illinois had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in May; Kansas' was 4.7, almost a point lower than the national rate. Median household income in Kansas is at the national average (2001-2002), while the cost of living is moderate-to-low, depending on exact location, and it costs less to send your kids to college in Kansas than in all but four states -- and they are more likely to graduate than the national average. Only 9 states have a smaller percentage of households living in poverty. We have our problems, but how is that not a pretty good outcome for Kansas -- and particularly the working class that Frank addresses?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's amazing how many of the negative reviews posted here evidence exactly the kind of false populism Frank is writing against. "Isn't it typical of liberals to think they know what's good for the working class better than the working class does?" Well who's to say they don't? To so quickly accuse your oponent of gross elitist presumption without engaging the substance of the argument is typical ad hominem. And isn't it ironic, in light of this book's argument, that in typical pot-calling-out-kettle fashion the conservatives who write such reviews and the working class folks on whose behalf they claim to speak vote, often against their better economic interests and better prosperity, for moral issues that betray their own brand of know-betterism? Liberals and conservatives and politicians of every stripe are paternalistic one way or another. Those who deny it are the one's to be trusted least.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've already reviewed this book, in a sense; my glowing blurb appears on the back cover. Here's a review of the conservative reviewers, from George Will and the New York Times Book Review essayist to the folks on Amazons.
They make an astonishing concession: they grant Tom Frank's main point. He argues that the Republicans have nothing to offer working people on ECONOMIC TERMS. The conservatives don't seem to disagree. They only argue that the Republicans are worth voting for on cultural terms alone, and seek to demonstrate that this is a legitimate way to vote.
This is new. Conservatives used to argue that they had the most to offer ordinary Americans ECONOMICALLY--and ALSO culturally. Now, on economics, they've simply given up. They've tacitly admitted that, for lower income folks at least, cultural conservatism is the party's sole appeal. A sad day for conservatism, and certainly evidence of its political decline.
And of course none of the conservative reviews can deal with the fact that the cultural battles the Republicans choose are bottomless unwinnable sinkholes. That's why I describe conservatives as having punk'd a nation: they offer their voters nothing in return but therapy.
Rick Perlstein
rperlstein@villagevoice.com
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