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on June 11, 2017
A little bit too repetitive and doesn't really make a convincing argument that socialism is better than capitalism. Frank just assumes that it's logical to accept that "capitalism is inimical to the best interests of the working class". On the other hand, as an outsider and ingenue relative to American politics, I found the book offers incite into understanding why so many Americans support the Republican party. In America, free market capitalism has been elevated to the status of a religion and Americans have come to believe it is their patriotic duty to support big business. Today (2017) many attribute the collapse of Venezuela to one word, the evil "socialism". They overlook the fact that capitalism came within a hair's breath of suffering the same fate in 2008. The truth is that any system allowed to operate without reasonable restrictions invites disaster. Capitalism has always been good for countries that can sell to expanding markets, as America did after WWII and China in the 1980's and 90's. But as markets decline economic disparities increase. American politics has some distinctive features. Conservative Christian values have traditionally influenced voting patterns.What is most disappointing, from a non-American viewpoint, is to what extent Americans tend to eschew any discussion of class conflict. God forbid that a graduated system of taxation should transfer some wealth from rich to poor. Regardless of who's pulling the strings, it serves no one's interest if social and economic disparities continue to grow unabated.
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on May 24, 2017
as a gift to tiny, feel good . Amazing customer service and a great product. will buy next time. so fast, receive it next day .
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on July 19, 2004
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
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on July 16, 2004
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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on July 16, 2004
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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on July 7, 2004
As to the author's being a "northeastern snob" (a critique of liberals which, interestingly enough, has only appeared in the past thirty years as the nature of the Democratic landscape has changed), one need only do thirty seconds of reading to realize that he's far from any such entity. But, more importantly, Frank really does anticipate the problem of values, contrary to several reviews here. That's his entire thesis, if you will, and it's a valid historical question. Why do we vote for values? Why do we trust politicians, of all people, to tell us what our values are? The modern nation-state is hardly a benevolent entity, and there are those among us, myself included, who believe that politicians and the government have absolutely no business wheeling and dealing in the lifeblood, the backbone, of any human culture. There are dangerous precedents for the contrary case: that's not to say that America has tremendous parallels to Nazi Germany (a state swollen with a rhetoric of "values," especially those masquerading under the heading of "family" values) - pitfalls and disasters will always be, to a degree, unique to their point of genesis - but rather that we'd do best to treat our government and our policians like we treat a hospital: I deal with you once a year, it's been great seeing you, but let me pay my dues and get out.
Where, now, is the quid pro quo in the Republican Party for anyone who makes less than $200,000 per annum? Have we been so manipulated that we're incapable of even voting in our own self-interest? The recent tax cuts saved the average family $237, while persons making over $1,000,000 will net over $90,000 yearly in gains. How is this remotely fair, or feasible?
The Democratic Party, the author argues, mysteriously abandoned its working-class platform, and in so doing its base as well, in the 1970s. As we all know, it's been downhill from there, and the playing-field has been absolutely dumbfounding. Democrats will never outdo Republicans on the question of values. The Republican Party has skilfully trademarked American morality as being exclusive to its own domain and has lassoed Christianity to its bumper, all the while championing economic policies and stances to the poor that are entirely antichristian, and absolute poison to many Republican supporters in the Plains states, who embody the populist spirit which Frank so admires, but in a strange way. They support their own disadvantages. We have, as Gore Vidal put it, socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor. The wealthy have bootstraps gilt with gold.
Thomas Frank encourages us to look past the rhetoric. Republican economics benefit the wealthy. When Cheney the other day described Kerry as good only for raising taxes - if we can but for a moment leave aside the mess that is the child tax credit - he was pretending to speak to the everyman but factually speaking only to the elite, a group which, even before loopholes and deductions, hardly pays its due anymore, forcing sundry odd men out to cover the bill for them (every bizarre and infuriating tax in America is symptomatic of this imbalance; for people in education, as just an example, you'll find your answer to the chronic book shortages of the past ten years here).
And as for the hallmark Republican values? The family has been operating fairly successfully for 2,500 years, and hardly needs the assistance of our small temporality. Don't believe anything to the contrary. Being manipulated is never something to be valued.
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on July 9, 2004
In his book 1984, George Orwell described the state of perpetual war in his fictional future society by saying that the war wasn't meant to be won, it was only meant to be continuous. In WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?, Thomas Frank illustrates how, and how effectively, the neoconservative right has implemented Orwell's concepts via a neverending war over culture and values.
Using his home state of Kansas as the model and focal point, Frank asks rhetorically why it is that Kansans so willingly espouse right-wing social issues (creationism, defunding public schools, prayer in schools, pro-life) while simultaneously allowing their state to become economically devastated by Republican free market policies of unfettered, unregulated capitalism. In other words, why do Kansans (and many other Red Staters) vote consistently against their pocketbooks, against their own economic self-interest?
With great specificity, Frank illustrates these behaviors and their devastating economic consequences by describing individuals and communities in Kansas. These are some of the strongest parts of his book, since they demonstrate through real people and real towns how life has changed, and continues to change, under Republican conservative rule. If anything, Frank could use more of these examples, particularly more description of some of the small towns and communities in his state that are dying a slow and tortured economic death. Regardless, the examples given convey the sense that Kansans are voting Red even as they vote themselves economically dead.
Frank correctly ascribes this seemingly self-contradictory behavior to the idea that Conservatives have discovered a means to incite permanent "backlash" among the Red Staters through culture wars. Whatever the issue, whether it's Janet Jackson's right breast or gay marriage in Massachusetts, Conservative politicians whip up fierce indignation and activism by threatening the loss of American moral values to the eastern, intellectual elite who support the denigration of those values and the denial of moral absolutes. And, as Frank points out, despite years of bitter denunciation, almost nothing has changed. The war rages on, but the Conservatives rarely win even a skirmish.
By focusing attention on culture issues, the Conservatives not only distract their followers from economic concerns, they remove capitalism itself as an issue. For Red Staters, capitalism is a natural force, and free markets are an absolute good. Concerns about environment, globalization, estate taxes, Wal-Martization, health and welfare all disappear, since laissez-faire is an inviolable principle. Capitalism cannot and must not be regulated in this worldview, and any restrictions and regulations designed to "thwart" it are necessarily wrong if not evil. The fact that culture itself -- MTV, Hollywood, Howard Stern, Fear Factor -- is a capitalist product that follows the same profit motivations goes unnoticed. In Kansas, as in most places, there is no connection in people's minds between culture and capitalism.
Frank has put his thumb directly on the source of America's current problems, the so-called Red State, Blue State divide. As I write this review on July 9, 2004, the United States remains embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, our standing in the world is at an all-time low, Tom Ridge is warning against another imminent Al-Qaeda attack, the country is hemorrhaging jobs, young kids can less and less afford to go to college, gas and milk prices have soared to all-time highs, working men and women can't make ends meet even with two or more jobs, millions are without health insurance, the President claims the power to arrest and detain anyone he chooses without legal representation, and our education system is becoming enslaved to meaningless standardized tests. What solutions does our Republican President and Republican legislative branch offer? The Senate is too busy preparing for an all-out legislative war over a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to worry about real problems. The newspaper every day tells us just how correct Thomas Frank is in his analysis. Kansas isn't just Kansas, Kansis is us!
Anyone who truly wants to understand today's upside-down political world, who wants to understand how middle class people can enthusiastically support tax cuts that give them nothing and the rich more money and power, should read WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS? Mr. Frank offers clear and straightforward explanation of this bizarre phenomenon, and his insights and implications should send chills down the spines of those who espouse a free, fair, and open society. To quote Frank's closing line: that the "fever-dream of martyrdom that Kansas follows today...invites us all to join in, to lay down our lives so others might cash out at the top; to renounce forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness." How much better can it be said?
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on 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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on July 11, 2004
Losers in political battles typically come up with conspiracy theories to explain why they are losers and this describes Frank's book as much as anything else. Read George Will's Post column of July 8 and you will get a summary of the problems that the fevered brows on the left face. The fact that basic economic privations have been largely solved sounded the death knell for the hardcore socialist left. Frank asks about the "smashing of the welfare state"? What galaxy is this man lost on? We have a 2.2 trillion budget, which, when you excise the 400 billion dollars for defense, has outstripped all industries and institutions in rate of growth. Frank's model is clearly the socialist governments of Europe, which are straining under budgets they can't afford, yet tolerate the barbarism of decades-long 12 per cent unemployment in Spain, France and Germany. The Left is bitter about the ungrateful masses who (a) don't realize how much it has done for them and (b) are too stupid and mind numbed to realize it. And people like Frank ponder why middle America tune him out.
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on June 28, 2004
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the views of the left. Thomas Frank provides an insight into how "latte liberals" think.
Perhaps Thomas Frank would of spent his time better, writing a book titled, "What's wrong with the Democrats - how the liberals lost the heart of Middle America." Instead he spends 300 pages telling us Midwesterners just don't get it. It is our fault democrats have lost their once strong foothold.
Frank fails to consider the real issue may be the policies of the Democratic Party. This is like a business complaining their customers are leaving because their customers do not get it.
As I read Thomas Frank's book, I thought it is time the Democratic Party turn their eyes to the policies of Harry Truman. As a person that lives near Kansas City and in the Midwest, I honestly believe the Democratic Party has changed more than those in the values of the Midwest.
What Thomas Frank does not tell readers is us folks in the Midwest think we are best at helping ourselves. In times of need we have traditionally turn to our neighbors not Washington DC. Today's democratic party is one who looks for answers in large government. Today's democratics look to the federal government to create jobs instead of local businesses. They kneal at the alter of the federal government.
I would encourage everyone interested in politics to read this book. It is an honest and candid look on how liberals view us conserviatives - especially those in the Midwest. Frank, like many "latte liberals" see those with religous views as morally confused and intellectually challenged.
Don't listen to me or others, but buy the book for yourself.
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