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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are conservatives really the exemplars of American values?
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,...
Published on July 16 2004 by J. Grattan

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The true paternalism of progressives.
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...
Published on July 19 2004 by Gene Brass


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The true paternalism of progressives., July 19 2004
By 
Gene Brass (Lincoln, Nebraska) - See all my reviews
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Are conservatives really the exemplars of American values?, July 16 2004
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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." Later, the labor movement became a powerful force in American industry in the post-WWII era precisely because it gave workers at least some voice in their economic destiny, if only over wages and benefits. By 1950, nearly four in ten private sector workers belonged to unions.
Why did the farmers and factory workers of fifty to one hundred years ago not disparage the Progressives, or liberal elites in today's lexicon, who largely drove the sweeping changes of the first half of the twentieth century that curtailed the most significant abuses of large businesses? The author hints at the answer: republicanism, or the philosophy that emphasized the virtues of free producers, still dominated the thinking of most people. Progressive actions were seen as preserving freedoms and not as imposing unwanted values. But "producerism" was already giving way to an entirely new focus. The working class was subtly being persuaded through a massive expansion of advertising in an ever-consolidating mass media that becoming consumers in free markets now defined a good life. Forget the fact that workplace regimes were inhospitable and bastions of control; the opportunity to freely indulge in materiality was touted as more than an adequate replacement for any losses in job satisfaction. Most conveniently for elites, the new vocabulary of markets hid the old hierarchy of capitalists and workers. Now buyers and sellers are seen as essentially equal in the marketplace regardless of differences in resources and actual power to impact markets.
The rise of consumerism and the notion that markets are free and neutral, devoid of power dynamics, aligns perfectly with business interests. Intrusions into the marketplace, such as environmental regulations or labor standards, are now held to be harmful to consumers, as well as businesses. It is routinely suggested that policy makers, now derisively referred to as liberal elites, must have some kind of un-American agenda to interfere with the making, selling, and buying of goods in free markets. Taxes, which fund these specious depredations on the marketplace, are accordingly cut. But a critique of liberal elites based solely on economics is not sufficiently motivating to spur enough voters to support the business agenda. The policies and judgments of liberals, either in or out of government, are now attacked as evidence of a deficiency in morality. With this demonization of liberals, a powerful voting alliance is formed.
Liberal respect and policy implementation for such measures as reproductive freedom, the exclusion of religious symbols from public life, alternative lifestyles, artistic expression, and actual equal opportunity are cast as morally reprehensible intrusions into ordinary lives. This view is pandered to and exacerbated by business elites through think tanks and the media, especially talk radio. But the author shows that it is a cynical position. It is a fact that many business elites share the same cultural background and tastes, as do liberal elites. In addition, it is large corporations that package and sell much of the culture that the working class finds so offensive. But these contradictions go unnoticed. The unrelenting demonization of liberals neatly obscures the tremendous economic costs that the working class has incurred in the new laissez-faire economy. A further irony is that while the business agenda achieves legislative success, the shrill values' debate is relegated to secondary status after elections.
The author clearly shows that Kansans should be concerned about the loss of good-paying industrial jobs and the squeezing of family farmers by large agri-business concerns. The rate of unionization has plunged to less than one in ten private sector workers, mostly under Republican administrations. While some modern Kansans express a desire to simply be left alone, that is wishful thinking. The Kansan economy is being drastically eroded right from under their feet. Their economy has truly become "at will" - the unilateral will of large corporations.
The author is best at detailing this puzzling phenomenon. His explanations are perhaps less clear, though still quite edifying. Conservatives contend that it is they that uphold cherished American values. But the U.S. has, for the most part, been a liberal society, intent on preserving the most freedom for the most people. The argument could easily be made that it is liberals, or liberal-minded people, that are the truest representatives of what has traditionally been best about American society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Erroneous assumptions, July 16 2004
By 
K. Bruffett "kari2you" (Kansas, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
5.0 out of 5 stars The False Populism of Conservatism, July 19 2004
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Astonishing Concession Conservatives Are Marking, July 19 2004
By A Customer
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Soap Box Reviews Again, July 19 2004
By 
"bthewriter" (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
Most reviewers of political books seem to forget to review the book outside of their own politics. It seems ridiculous that all of you are either bashing the writer for his opinions or praising him for them. The important thing for open minded people is if he has stated his argument well and written a good book. I think he has, although not a great book. His argument seems accurate As for all the pro-this or that folks who jump into the fray here on Amazon I'll save my arguments for a more meaningful and valid forum than trying to get people to not read a book by posting a review. So to all you republicans in kansas, read this book with an open mind.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The true paternalism of progressives., July 19 2004
By 
Gene Brass (Lincoln, Nebraska) - See all my reviews
Yes, but in time-honored pop-Marx fasion, Frank considers all non-economic moral concerns as mere epiphenomena riding lightly utop 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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2.0 out of 5 stars A bitter author and nothing more, July 19 2004
What struck me when I read this book was a feature article the New York Times did a half dozen or so years ago where a writer equated Christians as being uneducated and backwards. Something that is so totally false its almost laughable for its obvious ignorance as a statement and exposure of the authors preconceived, non-researched bias.
Same with this book. He seems more upset that his fellow Kansasians (?)march to a different drummer, or are more patriotic and actually believe in a God and attend worship services. He completely ignores the fact Kansas has some well respected universities and that the standard of living and quality of life is far superior to the élitist areas he prefers.
I am a proud Californian whose family has been here since the 1860's so I am not reading What's the Matter with Kansas as a disgruntled Kansasian but as someone who has traveled the United States enough and love the mid west and its values which are a lot like here in the Mother Lode of California where American flags fly from home porches, where prayer before meals is a habit, and where proud to be an American comes easily off ones tongue. And he admits in interviews that "Kansas" is a metaphor for the U.S.A. He has noted that today Kansas is the sort of place where the angry, suspicious world view typified by Fox News or the books of Ann Coulter is a common part of everyday life. Seems he is mad that what he sells isn't being bought.
He also seems bent out of shape that the folks of Kansas (and in my opinion anyone who isn't of his ilk) don't consider FDR a God, and perhaps value eating dinner together, marriages that last, hot dogs, baseball and Moms apple pie. He seems to detest the free enterprise system and the fact that someone may want to make an honest living and GASP get wealthy doing so. To bad he doesn't look to a neighboring state where Warren Buffet one of the countries wealthiest members lives. He wants the reader to believe that Republicans almost never act in the economic interest of the working class, while completely ignoring the documented facts that small business make up the majority of market producing jobs and that it has been the conservatives and Republicans in general who have fought to help the small business owners. He obviously doesn't read the Chamber of Commerce publications.
He also wants the reader to believe that Republicans accomplish little on the cultural front. I suspect he hates Mel Gibson and loves Michael Moore. Well I'm a Republican and I have been on local library and cultural arts commissions and have fought like the other Republicans and conservative Democrats who served with me to better fund the library and arts programs and to great success, due in large part to local small businesses. So the author is full of hot air on this subject!
And talk about talking down to or being holier than thou, he uses words like lunatics and deranged to describe good honest middle Americans who don't happen to agree with what he preaches. Talk about needing to be pushed off his pedestal, the man is an egomaniac in my opinion. To full of himself as my mid-west in-laws would say.
The author also snivels at the fact that the folks of Kansas and most (in my opinion) all American towns and states, don't want his way of life or beliefs. Sorta reminds me of the ivory tower types who don't like the fact that 'we' outside their sheltered domains, don't agree that America is bad, marriage is bad, or that telling the truth is good, and being grateful for each new day is enough.
The book in my opinion is nothing more than sour grapes. Sour grapes that those who don't buy his faulty logic and theories are willing to say so and walk away. Oddly enough as he denounces middle American values and the good old American buck, yet he himself doesn't seem to turned off to hawk his book and make a hefty return himself. In my family his type is called a hypocrite.
What's the Matter With Kansas?, comes from a famous 1896 essay by William Allen White.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Michael Moore Now Is Pissed Off At Kansas Republicans!!, July 18 2004
First off, I ask readers who claim genuine objectivity to check out the excellent review of this book in National Review's June 28, 2004 edition (p48). NR is definitely the conservative stalwart's publication, but I found the review to be a fair assessment (read the final paragraph as proof). Once I read Mr. Frank's book, I had a better understanding of the angle he was coming from (bent considerably to the left). When finished, I came away with this: he's ticked off that the dumb masses of Kansas have been duped into having the nerve to hold values (God, Pro-Life, Gun Protection) that are diametrically opposed to the Democrats, and even though the Republican Party appeals to a Kansan's values, the fact that poor people could vote Republican is ridiculous, and strange at best. And so someone like Mr. Frank, who is canted towards the Marxist ideal, will never understand why Americans with lower incomes would ever vote Republican. Because, how economically useless are 'values?'
I think the voting trend makes sense, for this one simple reason: Marxists/Leftists/Socialists/Liberals/Democrats - WHATEVER their current disguise du jour - thrive on the poor and disaffected, and utterly depend on their vote. This despite the fact that most of the Donkey Party politicos were born, bought into, or stole fabulous wealth (Kerry+Edwards = over $1 bil in personal wealth; what an emotional tie they must have to their constituents!). Yet, c'mon people, poor folk DON'T WANT TO BE POOR!! The American demand for independence transcends one's yearly net income. Yet even Mr. Frank's book title hints at his impatience with independent thought ("Don't you all get it? Are you that stupid?" - what a compelling technique for unity!) Rather than lament, as he does, the question of why in hell would the poor vote overwhelmingly Republican, a better question might be to ask which party's polices will help one the most in the long run.
Without the poor and dependent, the Democrat's days of influence would end abruptly, since once a voter has gained economic independence (read: freedom) through private wealth, Republican policies traditionally are more attractive (granted, their record here is weakening with each new Fiscal Year). Democrat policies are by far a greater drain on the middle and upper class than Republican. Mr. Frank spends hundreds of pages denying this truism, yet voting records don't lie (but fat bearded 'documentarists' do). Without the poor, Dems would be homeless. So why would they ever support policies that help people create wealth and independence? Such policies would be political suicide for leftists.
Human nature will always seek freedom, it's in our genetic and spiritual makeup; therefor the policies (fiscal, educational, even spiritual) Mr. Frank evidently holds dear in his compelling yet flawed "What's The Matter With Kansas" will always, ultimately, fail.
Still a worthy book to peruse if you can get it for free.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bamboozled, July 17 2004
By A Customer
An interesting exploration of a troubling phenomenon - the shameful fraud that has been perpetrated upon the culturally conservative working class by the Republican Party.
For a glimpse into some of the insidious and unethical ways this has been accomplished, I (strongly) recommend "Blinded by the Right" by David Brock.
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