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Sunday, June 24, 2012

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



Entertaining but fails to live up to the title

Published by Metropolitan Books in 2004.

Thomas Frank's stated purpose in What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America is to tell how Conservatives won the hearts of the working class, the middle class and the rich all at the same time. His answer is that rich, Republican elites throw up red herring issues (abortion and gay marriage are two that he mentions frequently) that bamboozle the working poor and the middle class into supporting them and their greater cause of Free Market Capitalism and International Free Trade even though Capitalism and treaties such as NAFTA inevitably beat the little guy into a pulp (his thought, not mine).

Thomas Frank
Yep. That's about it, although Mr. Frank says it much better than I just did. He also never goes into detail about why Capitalism and Free Trade are both evil (he just assumes you agree, I suppose), although he is very critical of Bill Clinton for supporting NAFTA throughout the book. Big business, especially Wal-Mart, are also to blame for de-populating the Kansas countryside. Apparently, Wal-Mart has some larger agenda in which they plan to drive their customers away from the stores they build in the country...

Seriously, the book would have been helped by further explanation as to why Mr. Frank is such an opponent of Capitalism. He has another book on just that subject, according to a tiny bit of research on my part. It might be a help if readers read that book first, especially in light of Mr. Frank's view that all politics is based in economics: "Most of us think of politics as a Machiavellian drama in which actors make alliances and take practical steps to advance their material interests." (p. 121)

Mr. Frank's fails to properly tell us "How conservatives won the heart of America" because he does not really believe, deep down, that people will vote in ways that he sees that are economically disadvantageous (Free Trade, etc.) unless they are tricked into doing so. People really believing in other issues, such as abortion,  and voting for them are foreign to his way of thinking. Frank may be from Kansas but he certainly does not understand his state and he demonstrates precious little respect for its inhabitants, treating them more like cultural oddities to be put on display.

Thomas Frank really fails to adequately address the thesis of the book, as expressed by the title. Interesting reading, nonetheless.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank.

Reviewed on July 7, 2007.

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