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WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS? by Thomas Frank Kirkus Star


How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

by Thomas Frank

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8050-7339-6
Publisher: Henry Holt

A fire-and-brimstone essay on false consciousness on the Great Plains.

“The poorest county in America . . . is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns,” writes native Kansan and Baffler founding editor Frank (ed., Boob Jubilee, 2003, etc.), “and in the election of 2000 the Republican candidate for president, George W. Bush, carried it by a majority greater than 80 percent.” How, Frank wonders, can it be that such a polity—honest toilers descended from free-soil, abolitionist progressives and prairie socialists—could back such a man who showed little concern then and has showed little concern since for the plight of the working class? And how can it be that such a place would forget its origins as a hotbed of what the historian Walter Prescott Webb called “persistent radicalism,” as the seedbed of Social Security and of agrarian reform, to side with the bosses, to back an ideology that promises the destruction of the liberal state’s social-welfare safety net? Whatever the root causes, many of which seem to have something to do with fear and loathing of big-city types and ethnic minorities, Kansas voters—and even the Vietnam vets among them—seem to have picked up on the mantra that the “snobs on the coasts” are the enemy, and that Bush (“a man so ham-handed in his invocations of the Lord that he occasionally slips into blasphemy”) and company are friends and deliverers. Frank ventures several convincing, if sometimes contradictory, reasons for what he clearly considers to be a tragedy; as he writes, “Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse.” Even so, he sees the tiniest ray of hope for modern progressives: after all, he notes, the one Kansas county that sports a NASCAR track went for Al Gore in 2000.

A bracing, unabashedly partisan, and very smart work of red-state trendspotting.