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The leaders of the [conservative] backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate.  Values may “matter most” to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won.  This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history.  Abortion is never halted.  Affirmative action is never abolished.  The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.  Even the greatest culture warrior of them all was a notorious cop-out once it came time to deliver.  “Reagan made himself the champion of ‘traditional values,’ but there is no evidence he regarded their restoration as a high priority,” wrote Christopher Lasch, one of the most astute analysts of the backlash sensibility.  “What he really cared about was the revival of the unregulated capitalism of the twenties:  the repeal of the New Deal.”
     —    Thomas Frank
From his book:  “What’s The Matter With Kansas?
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Old-fashioned values may count when conservatives appear on the stump, but once conservatives are in office the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulations.
     —    Thomas Frank
From his book:  “What’s The Matter With Kansas?
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People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about.
     —     Thomas Frank
From his book:  “What’s The Matter With Kansas?
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Book Review:
We all have books we KNOW we should read.  Some of us own books we know we should read.  And, occasionally, we actually get around to reading them to see what all the fuss is / was about.  Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” (2004©) is one of those books.  I’ve heard the book discussed on TV for seven years.  My daughter has owned it for several years.  And, I finally saw it on the $2 rack at my local used book store, so I thought, “What the heck?”
Frank is a Kansan who was raised a conservative (“Reagan”) Republican.  He admits to knowing little of the working class and nothing of work as he grew up.  He goes to college and is snubbed by the “better” classes of people at school and he discovers Democratic ideas / ideals.  The book explains this conversion and, more significantly, explains why he can’t understand why so many of his fellow Kansans continue to support Republicans when it is – he feels – clearly in their best economic interest to support Democrats.
In the end, the most telling comment is that the Democratic Party has abandoned its most effective arguments for holding onto its largest base (the working class), by adopting a soft on business economic policy which is “Republicanism lite”.  Frank says this happened during the Clinton era as an attempt to lure yuppies and other higher paid professionals and manual workers into the Democratic block.  It seems this worked during the Clinton era, but failed during the Gore and Kerry runs for the Presidency.
The book also spends a great deal of time discussing how once economics are removed from the contrast, Democrats lose to Republicans on “values” issues.
In hindsight, the analysis seems correct.  Unfortunately, Frank fails to offer any workable suggestions for either moving back to economic class struggle or converting folks on values.   As a matter of fact, even just finishing the book, I’m struggling to recall ANY suggestions.
It is easy to see why the book is considered a “classic” in modern terms and I believe the judgment will stand the test of time.  I would, however, note it was not a particularly “good” read for me.  The cover implies the author is humorous / funny.  I did not find him so.   At times he seems particularly bitter about the disappointment / disillusionment of his early adulthood – the world simply wasn’t the way he believed it to be when he was growing up.  This came across as a bitter tone through much of the book.  Today, I spent some time looking at Frank being interviewed and he does, in fact, seem funny and not bitter at all.  I admit this also surprised me…
Anyway, EVERY Democratic politician and political operative should definitely put this book high on their “must read” list.  I believe it does offer honest insight and serves as a cautionary tale for what may be facing us in 2012 and the future should the country fail to re-elect President Obama and turn over the Congress.  Given the number of Democratic Senators up for re-election, it seems almost certain the Republicans will gain the majority in the Senate.  (I don’t think they will get 60, though.)  The Democrats will do well to simply take back the House.  There will almost certainly be at least two seats opening on the Supreme Court during the next five years.  It behooves every patriotic American (Democrat and Republican) to not just vote, but to actively participate in the next national election.  The last thing we need is another “unelected” President or one elected by questionable voting procedures (read:  Florida and Ohio).
The future will tell…
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