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It looks like the whole republican party is just one huge laboratory for brainwashing and groupthink ;-). Here is one apt comment from  the discussion of Economist's View post   'How Did Once-Respectable Conservative Economists Get Swept Up in Moocher Class Mania'

mike 

I wonder how many Republican politicians are aware that nearly half the unemployed voted for Romney.

I think it's clear that, despite their interest, a lot of "moochers" still vote Republican.

Perhaps they don't realize they're moochers and are despised by their masters. Perhaps they're all won over by divisive garbage about God, gays and guns.

In any case, theirs is surely a losing strategy, all the more so as the economy improves and demographics change. I don't see how the Republicans survive longer term. It's all down hill from here, so the best they can do is disrupt the whole system of governance. They can probably do that pretty effectively for at least another four years. After that, I don't think Hillary and the newly Democratic congress is going to put up with their shoot.

The current economic situation is complex and cards are stuck against poor. What is amazing here is the astonishing level of brainwashing of lower mid class and poor in the USA. 

As for people betraying their own economic interests, this phenomenon was aptly described in "What's the matter with Kansas" which can actually be reformulated as "What's the matter with the USA?". And the answer he gave is that neoliberalism converted the USA into a bizarre high demand cult. There are several characteristics of a high demand cult that are applicable. Among them:

It is very difficult to get rid of this neoliberal sect mentality like is the case with other high demand cults. In other words the whole country is now is suffering under dominance of a religious sect which denies the existence of class conflict and at the same time relentlessly attack on standard of living under the smote screen of  elimination of freeloaders. As Mr. Buffett aptly noted  “There’s class warfare, all right,”  said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning."

It is difficult to speculated about real roots of this development. Looks like globalization played important role, especially creation of transnational elite detached from the interest of their home country and existing in some "virtual nation" of "super-citizens" consisting only of members of other national elites.

But the most interesting part here is the level of brainwashing of the US population, the level which would make Bolsheviks envy. The strategy that makes this amazing feat possible might be called a "Repug hypocrisy platform". I am not specialist but I see the following elements:

  1. Railing against victim-worship while convinced of their own victimization (look at complains of Wall Street bankers about unfair treatment as an example; another good example is arguments against elimination of ceiling for SS tax or for abolishing/cutting estate tax)
  2. Attacking capitalist culture and "liberal press" (Hollywood, "liberal press"), while controlling both Hollywood and press. Only in the USA it is possible to call moderately conservative newspaper like NYT "left leaning" or "liberal". 
  3. Hypocrisy about free market. Free market and its negative effects like unemployment are only for prols. For upper classes "corporate socialism" (aka crony capitalism) is in place and is considered optimal solution.
  4. Praising “real Americans” as randist style Ubermensch (creative class or "entrepreneur uber alles") forgetting that the ability to capitalize on technological advances depends of the level of funding of government research.  And that finance speculation is a racket (with GS as a symbol ;-)
  5. Speaking for the blue-collar workers and lower class in general while relentlessly undermining their standard of living.
  6. Replacing class conflict with the theory of inferiority of those who are at the bottom half of wealth pyramid. See 'Why The Republican’s Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy Is Backfiring'

     As Thomas Frank observed:

    The conservatives talk the language of social class all the time and that might seem strange because we always hear them accusing Democrats of class warfare, whenever, say, the Democrats talk about the tax burden being unfairly tilted to one side. They say, “That’s class warfare and that has no place in American politics,” but they themselves talk about social class all the time. They talk about social class from the bottom up. It’s a very bitter, angry way of looking at people in what they believe to be an upper class. They call them the liberal elite and they talk about their tastes and their preferences all the time. They run these TV commercials that say liberals are supposed to sip Chardonnay and eat fancy cheese and drink lattés—lattés are especially identified with liberals. And Volvos.
     

  7. Spending like drunk sailor when in power and instantly turning into fiscal conservatives when booted from the White House.

  8. Campaigning on wedge cultural issues while basing policy on economic issues and first of all on  privatization of public assets and dismantling Social programs ("starving the beast" agenda) that really hurt lower and middle class.

Actually few understand that the triumph of neo-liberalism (dissolution of the USSR) signified the beginning or a long trend of lowering of standard of living for both middle and lower class in the USA.

One might argue that that 1945-1991 were a historic anomaly, way too beneficial to lower class, but still I think the such a relentless attack on standards of living became possible only with the dissolution of the USSR.


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[Nov 30, 2015] Is Balanced Growth Really the Answer

Notable quotes:
"... Reich would also, in a less orthodox move, seek legislative and other changes that might move corporations back toward what they were a half-century ago: organizations that saw themselves as answering not just to stockholders but to a broader set of stakeholders, including workers and customers. ..."
Nov 30, 2015 | Economist's View

Dan Kervick, November 30, 2015 at 11:12 AM

Just as was the case with his work on financial instability, Hyman Minsky's analysis of the problems of poverty and inequality in a capitalist economy, as well as his understanding of the political dysfunctions that would result from treating these problems in the wrong way, were prophetic. See this piece by Minksy's student L. Randall Wray, especially Section 2:

http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_515.pdf

The centerpiece of Minsky's preferred approach was based on a government commitment to "tight full employment". He believed that neither human capital investment, economic growth, nor redistribution would be sufficient on their own to address the problem.

As part of the critique of the human capital approach, Minsky argued that:

"it is unjust to tell the poor that they must change before they will be entitled to work-whether it is their skills set or their character that is the barrier to work... Minsky always argued that it is preferable to "take workers as they are," providing jobs tailored to the characteristics of workers, rather than trying to tailor workers to the jobs available before they are allowed to work (Minsky 1965, 1968, 1973)."

Minsky accurately foresaw the way in which a welfare approach to poverty, as opposed to a full employment approach, would politically divide working people among themselves:

"Further, NIT (and other welfare programs) would create a dependent class, which is not conducive to social cohesion (Minsky 1968). Most importantly, Minsky argued that any antipoverty program must be consistent with the underlying behavioral rules of a capitalist economy (Minsky no date, 1968, 1975a). One of those rules is that earned income is in some sense deserved."

"With the perspective of the 1980s and 1990s now behind us, it is hard to deny Minsky's arguments-President Reagan successfully turned most Americans against welfare programs and President Clinton finally "eliminated welfare as we know it." According to Minsky, a successful antipoverty program will need to provide visible benefits to the average taxpayer."

We can note that this political problem has only gotten worse, as can be seen from the deepening ugliness of our domestic politics, and the poll results that MacGillis cites.

Minsky also understood the unhealthy political and economic dynamics of an undirected aggregate demand approach to poverty, and promoted, following ideas of Keynes, a measure of socialized investment and direct job creation:

"Minsky feared that using demand stimulus to reduce poverty would necessarily lead to "stop-go" policy. Expansion would fuel inflation, causing policy makers to reverse course to slow growth in order to fight inflation (Minsky 1965, 1968). Because wages (and prices) in leading sectors would rise in expansion, but could resist deflationary pressures in recession, there would be an upward bias to rising wages in those sectors. However, in the lagging sectors, wage increases would come slowly-only with adequate tightening of labor markets-and could be reversed in recession. Hence, Minsky argued that a directed demand policy would be required-to raise demand in the lagging sectors and for low wage and unemployed workers. For this reason, he concluded
that a direct job creation program would be required."

All this adds up to a more activist role for the government sector.

likbez ->Dan Kervick...

My impression is that "human capital" is one of the most fundamental neoliberal myths. See, for example What Exactly Is Neoliberalism by Wendy Brown https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/booked-3-what-exactly-is-neoliberalism-wendy-brown-undoing-the-demos

As for people betraying their own economic interests, this phenomenon was aptly described in "What's the matter with Kansas" which can actually be reformulated as "What's the matter with the USA?". And the answer he gave is that neoliberalism converted the USA into a bizarre high demand cult. There are several characteristics of a high demand cult that are applicable. Among them:

It is very difficult to get rid of this neoliberal sect mentality like is the case with other high demand cults.

kthomas,

"...it's driven be resentment..."

No, its driven by racism. White trash will take with one hand, then walk right into a voting both and screw themselves because they think they sticking it to blacks, mexicans, gays, etc.

Syaloch -> kthomas...

Racism is certainly part of it, but it's really more fundamental than that.

"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages."

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Smith/tms133.html

bakho

This misreads the politics. People who are disconnected from the job market very easily get disconnected from the political process. They don't vote. The people who do have jobs and are worried about keeping them and being paid too little are voting against the "losers" who they see as parasites. Never mind that the Malefactors of Great Wealth are the true parasites. Elections in the US are won or lost on voter turnout.

Syaloch

Mark: "If the distribution of income is determined by something other than productivity, as it appears to be -- if income that was not earned through higher productivity flows to those at the top of firms due to unequal bargaining power or other forces -- then returning that income to those who did earn it is not taking something unjustly..., instead it is restoring justice. The trick is to get people to understand that."

That's what Reich is attempting to do in Saving Capitalism. I like his coinage of "predistribution" and his focus on changing the allocation of market income so that it truly reflects what is "earned" rather than settling for redistribution after the fact, which allows the simple-minded to argue that you're taking what's "mine" and giving it to anonymous others who it's easy to cast as undeserving.

From Krugman's review:

"These [predistribution] changes would include fairly standard liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, reversing the anti-union bias of labor law and its enforcement, and changing contract law to empower workers to take action against employers and debtors to assert their interests against creditors. Reich would also, in a less orthodox move, seek legislative and other changes that might move corporations back toward what they were a half-century ago: organizations that saw themselves as answering not just to stockholders but to a broader set of 'stakeholders,' including workers and customers."

While I fully support all of the above I think we need to go further. For one thing I would like to see more benefits without means testing; ideally this would amount to a guaranteed minimum income, since I think that's what we're going to need anyway to cope with increasing automation.

I also think the direct job creation approach described by Dan above is worth considering. The challenge there is that for an increasing percentage of jobs it is no longer possible to "take workers as they are" given the specialized skills required. Subsidized retraining and re-credentialing can help to some degree, but there will always be some portion of the population incapable of acquiring the needed skills.

[Nov 23, 2015] Who Turned My Blue State Red?

economistsview.typepad.com
Fred C. Dobbs said...
Who Turned My Blue State Red?
http://nyti.ms/1kLMLSC
NYT - ALEC MacGILLIS - NOV. 20

It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.

In his successful bid for the Senate in 2010, the libertarian Rand Paul railed against "intergenerational welfare" and said that "the culture of dependency on government destroys people's spirits," yet racked up winning margins in eastern Kentucky, a former Democratic stronghold that is heavily dependent on public benefits. Last year, Paul R. LePage, the fiercely anti-welfare Republican governor of Maine, was re-elected despite a highly erratic first term - with strong support in struggling towns where many rely on public assistance. And earlier this month, Kentucky elected as governor a conservative Republican who had vowed to largely undo the Medicaid expansion that had given the state the country's largest decrease in the uninsured under Obamacare, with roughly one in 10 residents gaining coverage.

It's enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.

But this reaction misses the complexity of the political dynamic that's taken hold in these parts of the country. It misdiagnoses the Democratic Party's growing conundrum with working-class white voters. And it also keeps us from fully grasping what's going on in communities where conditions have deteriorated to the point where researchers have detected alarming trends in their mortality rates.

In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process. ...

(Indeed. Why are impoverished, federal-dollar absorbing states typically So Red? It's a good question. But Kentucky, Iowa & Maine are not good examples.
Kentucky has always been on the very edge of the Old South. Iowa is deeply evangelical. And Maine is just Maine.)

[Jan 10, 2014] 'Why The Republican's Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy Is Backfiring'

It's been awhile since we've checked in with Robert Reich:

Why The Republican's Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy - Setting Working Class Against the Poor - Is Backfiring, by Robert Reich: For almost forty years Republicans have pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy intended to convince ... the working class that its hard-earned tax dollars were being siphoned off to pay for "welfare queens" ... and other nefarious loafers. The poor were "them" - lazy, dependent on government handouts, and overwhelmingly black - in sharp contrast to "us," who were working ever harder, proudly independent..., and white.
It was a cunning strategy designed to split the broad Democratic coalition that had supported the New Deal and Great Society, by using the cleavers of racial prejudice and economic anxiety. It also conveniently fueled resentment of government taxes and spending.
The strategy also served to distract attention from the real cause of the working class's shrinking paychecks - corporations that were busily busting unions, outsourcing abroad, and replacing jobs with automated equipment and, subsequently, computers and robotics.
But the divide-and-conquer strategy is no longer convincing because the dividing line between poor and middle class has all but disappeared. "They" are fast becoming "us."... Three decades of flattening wages and declining economic security have taken a broader toll..., unexpected poverty has become a real possibility for almost everyone these days. And there's little margin of safety. ...
Race is no longer a dividing line, either. ... Most people are now on the same losing side of the divide. ...
Which means Republican opposition to extended unemployment insurance, food stamps, jobs programs, and a higher minimum wage pose a real danger of backfiring on the GOP. ... It's not hard to imagine a new political coalition of America's poor and working middle class, bent not only on repairing the nation's frayed safety nets but also on getting a fair share of the economies' gains.
Darryl FKA Ron:

...This means sudden and unexpected poverty has become a real possibility for almost everyone these days. And there's little margin of safety. With the real median household income continuing to drop, 65 percent of working families are living from paycheck to paycheck.

Race is no longer a dividing line, either. According to Census Bureau numbers, two-thirds of those below the poverty line at any given point identify themselves as white...

...The new economy has been especially harsh for the bottom two-thirds of Americans. It's not hard to imagine a new political coalition of America's poor and working middle class, bent not only on repairing the nation's frayed safety nets but also on getting a fair share of the economies' gains.


[So, we are finally getting racial equality one way or the other.


'Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.' - MLK

I still like Reich. I tend to think that he has gotten this one correct, eventually at least. Like most things that must eventually happen, it is always just a matter of time.]

djt:

It's too bad there's no political party to represent the alliance of poor and working people. If they had senators and representatives elected to congress, they might be able to pressure those congresspeople. Unfortunately, there is no such party, and there is enough corporate largess to keep the two business parties in control.

DrDick:

While I generally like Reich, I am far less sanguine about this. The Republican base is increasingly in the South, where race and class are still major issues. Even in Ohio and Wisconsin, they have successfully used these tactics to seize power and enact radcial agendas penalizing the working classes and poor.

Dan Kervick -> DrDick...

Yeah, I know several Republicans, and some of them are so crazy that they frighten me. It's almost impossible to exchange information with them about political issues because everything that doesn't fit into the paranoid scheme they have already adopted is some kind of "false flag" or other evil liberal mind control scheme. And being a struggling white person doesn't seem to bring them into any solidarity at all with struggling black and brown people - just the opposite.

ken melvin:

He's right about the repubs using the poor and working class to work against their own best interests. Nothing much has changed as far as I can tell. Even if they did watch the News Hour they'd hear Judy Woodruff speaking to the dangers of government waste for fiscal outlays for infrastructure.

What's missing is some shill being payed $2million a year to rant on and on about how the repubs blew $2trillion on on misbegotten adventures to war while cutting taxes for the rich and now are demanding that the poor make up the short fall via cuts in SS, medicaid, unemployment benefits, ... and keep saying this until it soaks in.

mrrunangun:

Poverty is mainstream now. Forty-five percent of US babies were born on Medicaid last year. GOP clearly has nothing on offer. No job program, no unemployment benefit, no Medicaid expansion but instead a reduction in safety net support. But what Dems offer is vague and the current administration has been less than reliable about connecting rhetoric with policy. If LBJ or Hubert Humphrey were in the White House, policy efforts would be more forceful in The direction of job growth, unemployment support, Medicaid expansion, etc. and they would probably have done something about carried interest and the like instead of making speeches about how these things needed to be stopped while doing nothing of substance to stop them.

William of Ockham:

Of 534 current lawmakers on Capitol Hill, at least 268 had an median net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, the analysis by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found. That's up from 257 members - or about 48% of lawmakers - in 2011 and marks the first time that a majority of politicians on Capitol Hill were in the millionaire's club.

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Thomas Jefferson

Buying into the gamemanship of a two party system is clearly buying into a system run by a power elite. Our government is not effectively serving, as mandated, The People of the United States of America.

Amen

[Mar 18, 2013] 'How Did Once-Respectable Conservative Economists Get Swept Up in Moocher Class Mania'

March 18, 2013 | Economist's View

Swept Up in Moocher Class Mania?'

Brad DeLong: reviews Nicholas Eberstadt's "A Nation of Takers":

... If there was a single moment when Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, it was in May when he stood in front of the $50,000-a-plate audience at Sun Capital honcho Marc Leder's home in Boca Raton and spoke his soon-to-be-infamous words:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what…. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government…who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it…. These are people who pay no income tax…. My job is not to worry about those people-I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives…

This is what Mark Schmitt of the Roosevelt Institute calls "the theory of the moocher class." And Romney is all in with it. ...

Those of us who know the numbers, or who simply live in America and look around, know that the 47 percent who aren't paying federal income taxes this year are by and large not "moochers." About a fifth are elderly retired. About two-thirds are in households with incomes of less than $20,000 a year-definitely not living high. And nearly one-third owe no income taxes because of the earned-income and child tax credits, which both became law with bipartisan support.

As a group, the 47 percent who pay no income taxes do not lack work ethic. They do take personal responsibility for their lives. They may not pay federal income taxes this year, but they pay plenty of sales, property, and payroll taxes. For the most part, they do not constitute the Democratic base. More than half of the 47 percent are the elderly white and Southern white voters who voted for Romney by substantial margins.

So how does someone like Romney, along with his peers and all their staffs and everyone else in that Boca Raton room, become convinced that 47 percent of Americans are the moochers, the takers, dependent on "free gifts" from the government, lacking work ethic, lacking personal responsibility?

Enter Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with his contribution to the think tank's "New Threats to Freedom" series. We need venture no further into A Nation of Takers than the bottom of the second page…

As I noted yesterday, conservatives are still blaming their loss in the presidential election on the idea that Democrats are "giving away free stuff" to their constituents. I think this passage highlights the mistake they are making:

The truth is that the American government spends much of its money transferring resources from some members of the broad middle class to others in the same class: unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and increasingly Medicaid (which every day shifts more from a program focused on the nonelderly poor to one spending a greater share on the disabled and on the elderly who can no longer make their Medicare co-payments). The recipients of these social-insurance benefits do not think of themselves as moochers. They paid into these systems. They believe that they earned those benefits-and in large part they did.
Eberstadt sees things differently...

The good thing -- for Democrats -- is that the more that conservatives are criticized over this, the more they seem to dig in their heels.

Lambert said...

>Milton Friedman did a lot to encourage a lack of social responsibility, paying less taxes and thinking that profit maximization at the expense of labor income was a good thing for long-term growth.

Reply Monday, at 03:33 PM

Michael Pettengill said in reply to Edward Lambert...

Intellectually that is false. The reason "47% pay no income taxes" is a result of Milton Friedman's ideas being incorporated in "welfare reform" in the 70s and again in the 90s with the EITC.

Pragmatically, Milton Friedman is guilty of collaborating with crooks and liars:

Here is the Federal debt increase by fiscal year since 1950:

1951 -0.83%
1952 1.52%
1953 2.69%
1954 1.95%
1955 1.15%
1956 -0.59%
1957 -0.82%
1958 2.15%
1959 3.03%
1960 0.57%
1961 0.92%
1962 3.19%
1963 2.57%
1964 1.91%
1965 1.78%
1966 0.83%
1967 1.97%
1968 6.55%
1969 1.77%
1970 4.86%
1971 7.34%
1972 7.32%
1973 7.23%
1974 3.69%
1975 12.24%
1976 16.36%
1977 12.64%
1978 10.40%
1979 7.13%
1980 9.82%
1981 9.93%
1982 14.45%
1983 20.59%
1984 14.16%
1985 15.95%
1986 16.58%
1987 10.59%
1988 10.72%
1989 9.80%
1990 13.15%
1991 13.36%
1992 10.89%
1993 8.53%
1994 6.38%
1995 5.99%
1996 5.04%
1997 3.60%
1998 2.09%
1999 2.35%
2000 0.32%
2001 2.35%
2002 7.25%
2003 8.91%
2004 8.78%
2005 7.50%
2006 7.24%
2007 5.89%
2008 11.29%
2009 18.80%
2010 13.87%
2011 9.06%
2012 8.63%

And here is the Federal debt increase by calendar year:
1993 8.26%
1994 6.33%
1995 3.97%
1996 6.59%
1997 3.10%
1998 2.27%
1999 2.59%
2000 -0.40%
2001 3.56%
2002 7.69%
2003 9.27%
2004 8.73%
2005 7.41%
2006 6.43%
2007 6.13%
2008 15.39%
2009 15.64%
2010 13.89%
2011 8.77%
2012 7.92%

Milton Friedman supported Republicans long after it was totally clear they had become with Reagan and the neocons the party that combined all the worst aspects of pork, tax cut and spend, reckless militarism. And Milton Friedman was a prop for Republicans they trotted out to justify their big government dictates on how people think and act in private, and to justify boosting entitlements to win votes while cutting taxes to win votes and merely talking about debt and deficits as a means to win elections to cut taxes and hike spending and make the deficits bigger, blaming Democrats for conservative Republican policies.

Liberals should have been quoting Friedman in order to attack conservative policies, and especially the worst of Reagan's policies.

jurisdebtor:

Study: State tax systems regressive
By Bernie Becker, 1/30/2013, The Hill Blog

http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/domestic-taxes/280027-study-state-tax-systems-regressive

"Practically every state charges a higher share of taxes from lower- and middle-class families than the highest earners, a new study from a liberal-leaning group found.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the bottom 20 percent of earners paid an effective tax rate of 11.1 percent to state and local governments, while the top-earning quintile paid about half as much, 5.6 percent. The middle 20 percent pays a rate of 9.4 percent.

hix

The concept of what is a worthy or good human being both Democarts and Repbulicans embrace in this debate is rather disgusting. Why are only people who "work hard" and are "non dependent" worthy human beings. Especially in a rich country? That is just dumb and ultimatly most of the work effort gets spend on pointless status competition. No one is independent anyway. A modern economy is not based on isolated subsistance level farmers....

mike

I wonder how many Republican politicians are aware that nearly half the unemployed voted for Romney.

I think it's clear that, despite their interest, a lot of "moochers" still vote Republican.

Perhaps they don't realize they're moochers and are despised by their masters. Perhaps they're all won over by divisive garbage about God, gays and guns.

In any case, theirs is surely a losing strategy, all the more so as the economy improves and demographics change. I don't see how the Republicans survive longer term. It's all down hill from here, so the best they can do is disrupt the whole system of governance. They can probably do that pretty effectively for at least another four years. After that, I don't think Hillary and the newly Democratic congress is going to put up with their shoot.

Lafayette

A GET-RICH-QUICK MENTALITY

{'How Did Once-Respectable Conservative Economists Get Swept Up in Moocher Class Mania?'}

If I've said once, I've said it a hundred times in this forum: The reckless demise of taxation of upper incomes (to a level of between 20 and 25% after deductions) has induced a Win-Win mentality in American business.

Golden Boy 'n Girls on Wall Street and Main Street are incentivized to take inordinate financial risk or game the market economy (due to lax regulatory oversight) in order to get-rich-quick. This motivation has become pervasive throughout the economy.

Because a "getting rich quick" mentality is now considered an honourable professional goal. After all, everybody is doing it ... it has become socially and morally correct in America.

Therefore, politically, there is no upswell of indignation against a socially-correct behaviour. Despite the fact that the statistics show clearly that such behaviour produces endemic Income Disparity in the nation.

[Mar 10, 2013] The Believer - Interview with Thomas Frank by Margaret Wappler

"Democrats have decided to appeal to the professional class and to others. they'll talk about things like jobs but in a very generic sense. they're not anything like the democrats of old."

Conservative hypocrisies:
Railing against victim-worship while convinced of their own victimization
Attacking capitalist culture while supporting capitalism
Praising "real Americans" to negate the views of everyone else
Speaking for the working class while working against it
Fighting with moderates while sustaining them
Campaigning on cultural issues and then basing policy on economic ones

As a youth in the Kansas City suburbs, Thomas Frank toted around a copy of the Constitution; he considered it and the Bible the "shop manuals to the human condition." Enthralled by Reagan-style idealism, he believed that business and enterprise should be allowed to roam free, unhampered and untended. What finally shook his rosy view was, he says with characteristically deadpan reasoning, "experience with the real world."

Frank, who could write a memoir entitled, naturally, I Was a Teenage Conservative, is now one of the fiercest critics of the culture of business and the politics that enable and aid the reproachful whims of the free market. Dissatisfied with the postmodern and deconstructionist approaches favored in the late '80s, Frank and friend Keith White started the Baffler, a Chicago-based magazine that has consistently featured the most inerrant and saucy critiques of commerce and culture, and has released two anthologies of its best efforts, Commodify Your Dissent (1997) and Boob Jubilee (2003). A proving ground for Frank and several other preeminent muckrakers, the Baffler is a kind of throwback to the vigor and brio of early-twentieth-century intellectual sparring.

His first book, The Conquest of Cool (1997) took on the lasting progenitors of the counterculture critique-the consumer advertising industry. Praised for its spirit and refreshingly plainspoken approach, it examined '60s-era ads from companies such as Oldsmobile, El Al Airlines, and Booth's Gin, and their manipulative tactics of conjuring counterculture terminology to hock wares. Widely reviewed and commended, Frank followed it up with One Market under God (2000). Challenging the belief that free markets are inherently democratic, Frank also tackled the giddy rhetoric of the New Economy and the pervasive cultural notion that capitalism is commutable with religion. This prolific work catapulted Frank to new heights and set the stage for his latest volume.

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America manages to weave many of Frank's previous theories regarding capitalism and rampant free markets into an analysis of the current political landscape. In his most directly vital critique yet, Frank uses Kansas as a case study of the nation's thriving conservative movement. How did one of the most liberal states in the union, home to radical socialists like Eugene Debs, become one of the most rigidly conservative? Over the course of two phone conversations, Frank, with infectious enthusiasm, tried to answer this question. He spoke from his home in Washington, DC, where he recently moved from Chicago to cover the belly of the beast for Harper's. "There are some things I really like about it," Frank said of his adopted city, "a lot of beautiful buildings and that kind of thing. But I really miss the Midwest. I can't wait to go back."

I. "CONSERVATISM IS NOT
A DOCTRINE OF CONTENTMENT.
NOT A DOCTRINE FOR THE SATISFIED
AND THE SMUG. IT'S A POLITICS
THAT'S AT WAR WITH THE WORLD."

THE BELIEVER: In your new book, you talk about David Brooks and how in his book Bobos in Paradise he boils down the class and cultural differences in the United States to preferences for cars or wine and other material definitions. He's certainly not the first person to work with that stereotype.

THOMAS FRANK: It goes way back to talk about class in terms of tastes and preferences. Some of my very favorite books are these social critiques from the 1950s, like The Tastemakers. A number of books from the 1950s described the different social classes by what they consumed.

My argument with Brooks is that he does it in a way that's heavily politicized, and the politics tend to lean toward pop sociology-it's not really serious. The politics tend to obscure a lot of the reality.

BLVR: Why do you think this particular way of breaking down the differences between liberals and conservatives has gained so much currency with the Right?

TF: It serves their purposes. This is one of the things that my book is about. I'm also noticing it constantly since I moved to Washington, DC. The conservatives talk the language of social class all the time and that might seem strange because we always hear them accusing Democrats of class warfare, whenever, say, the Democrats talk about the tax burden being unfairly tilted to one side. They say, "That's class warfare and that has no place in American politics," but they themselves talk about social class all the time. They talk about social class from the bottom up. It's a very bitter, angry way of looking at people in what they believe to be an upper class. They call them the liberal elite and they talk about their tastes and their preferences all the time. They run these TV commercials that say liberals are supposed to sip Chardonnay and eat fancy cheese and drink lattés-lattés are especially identified with liberals. And Volvos.

It's very helpful for them to look at class this way because then you don't talk about the money part, the taxes, the deregulation, the really broad, sweeping effects that Republican policies have had on the country in the last thirty years. You're objecting to the tastes of this stereotyped clique of people.

There's another very powerful reason why conservative commentators are drawn to this, and in particular the current version of this critique, the red-state/blue-state model. Brooks writes about this a lot and it's not just him. Everywhere you turn in Washington you hear this: red-state people are one kind of person and blue-state people are another kind of person and it's these two very different cultures that never the twain shall meet. Well, the reason this is so attractive is that it implies that the real Americans, the Heartland Americans, Nixon's "silent majority," are automatically supporters of George W. Bush. And this gives Bush a majoritarian legitimacy that he didn't have. He didn't win the popular vote. So talking about it that way obscures that fact.

BLVR: Do any of them ever acknowledge the irony of embracing that kind of thinking about material objects? The stereotype is informed by the advertising industry that has propagated certain ideas, like, you buy an Apple computer, you're different.

TF: Oh, absolutely. There are many, many contradictions that are never acknowledged. This is one of the contradictions drawn from a part of capitalism that they would probably object to really strongly.

Another thing, and this is one of the most fundamental contradictions in the conservative worldview, is that they object so bitterly to American culture as a whole. They hate it. You pick up any of their bestsellers and the authors feel out of place in America. They complain about the culture but it never seems to come up that this culture is the product of capitalism and that capitalism is something they profess to love.

The basic contradiction is that on the one hand, they are so pro–free market, and on the other hand the free market hurts them in many ways that they never talk about. So the idea of the Republicans speaking for the working class, it's ridiculous because they've done so much to harm the working class and yet that's how they represent themselves and that's how they've won elections. And it's not a joke, either. That's how they won. That's how they've become the majority party since 1968. Back then they looked to be a permanent minority; now they are the instigators and leaders in Washington. That's the great historical question of our time: how the Republicans became the majority party. How conservatives have been so successful over the last thirty years.

BLVR: It seems that their power comes, in part, from coopting this language that has deep connotations. With certain words and phrases, Bush can say, "I'm aligned with the working class. I know what you're going through."

TF: They're very good at it. And it's not like they're doing it in order to manipulate people. It's honest. When I saw Bush speak just days ago at the fortieth anniversary celebration of the American Conservative Union, he seemed sincere.

BLVR: They seem to have borrowed some of the concepts that the politically correct movement popularized, like the idea of the victim.

TF: Oh, absolutely. A guy like Bill O'Reilly will rail against the liberals for their worship of the victim, yet the conservatives have, in many ways, a much more developed, elaborate theory of their own victimization than any other group out there. They are the "Middle Americans," they believe, the salt of the Earth. They've stood up for their country and their flag and here they are marginalized. The schools won't teach what they believe, the world just insults them constantly. All their arguments proceed from this theory of victimization. There's even a book out there that they love by Rush Limbaugh's brother called Persecution. The idea of it is that Christians are persecuted right here in the U.S. of A.

This is so critical for people to understand: conservatism is not a doctrine of contentment. Not a doctrine for the satisfied and the smug. It's a politics that's at war with the world. It sees itself as the ideology of the oppressed. This is central to its appeal.

II: "SOMETIMES IT SEEMS
THE REPUBLICANS CHOOSE
THE CULTURAL ISSUES
DELIBERATELY BECAUSE THEY CAN'T
BE RESOLVED, CAN'T BE WON."

BLVR: You talk a lot about the differences between the conservative and moderate Republicans. That's something I don't think people pay much attention to.

TF: There're two factions in the Republican Party; this is almost everywhere in the country. In Kansas there is a stark class divide between these two factions. The moderates are the state's ruling class: they are the newspaper owners, the doctors, the lawyers, the MBAs, and the real-estate developers. And they really do have a sort of baronial attitude about the place. The conservatives tend to be the state's working class. People stop voting Democrat at some point in their lives and instead of becoming moderate Republicans they become conservative Republicans. That's the only other choice out there.

BLVR: Do you think that the moderates haven't been vehement enough about criticizing the conservatives?

TF: These two groups despise each other.

BLVR: But yet the moderates don't call for the conservatives to make their own party?

TF: Well, they did in the beginning but now they realize they're stuck with them. You interview these people and they are constantly giving you dirt on the other faction. They don't even care about the Democrats-they just hate each other. One conservative Republican told me that the moderate drove a Volvo. This was supposed to be really damning. The conservatives took over the state party in the mid-'90s and when they turned it over to the moderates, who took over again in 1999, the conservatives had spent the bank account and erased all the computers, or at least this is what I was told by a moderate. You don't know if it's really true. The conservatives have their own stories.

BLVR: But for all the infighting, do they mutually benefit each other?

TF: They don't like to admit it because, of course, they are always fighting the war, but yes, they do. The Republicans dominate Kansas even more now than they did before the conservatives started rising up. There are a few exceptions to that, like the current governor of Kansas is a Democrat and she got in because the conservative guy got the nomination and the moderates hated him so much that a lot of the Republican leaders went for the Democrat. The Democrats are able to score every now and then.

BLVR: Is there potential then for the Republican Party to just self-destruct?

TF: Yeah, sure. They've lost several big elections. But the thing is these people always get together in the end.

BLVR: You posit that the conservatives use the values issues-abortion, for instance-as a way to get their financial interests in the back door.

TF: The Republican Party on the national level has been very successful with their economic agenda to roll back taxes, to deregulate and privatize, to do away with the welfare state in many different ways. Their accomplishments have been very impressive. The things that get the votes for them, though, are the social issues, the cultural issues. Now, on those issues they have almost nothing to show for it. All these years of campaigning against Hollywood, for example, and nothing has changed.

That's interesting because sometimes it seems the Republicans choose cultural issues deliberately because they can't be resolved, can't be won, the classic examples being abortion and school prayer. Those require constitutional amendments or a seriously altered Supreme Court in order to win. Some of the people I talked to in Kansas really believe they're going to live to see the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned. I strongly doubt it.

Or you take the episode that happened last spring where the judge had the Ten Commandments monument built in the courthouse. That was deliberately done to pick a fight with the ACLU, to mobilize voters. Or the classic example in Kansas, the evolution controversy-this was just silly. That was done strictly to cause a little cultural shitstorm, to polarize their followers.

BLVR: But did it work?

TF: At first it looked like it worked but in the end it backfired. The problem is that the conservatives tend to win in the Republican primaries when there aren't big issues to bring people out, because they are extremely dedicated and they get out the vote. You have to admire them for that. So they tend to win in the primaries in Kansas and most other places if there are no high-profile votes going on. The moderates in Kansas have figured out that their voters don't tend to be as good about that. For one thing, they tend to be on vacation when the primaries happen [laughs], and they often tend to be much more complacent people. They have discovered that the only way they can beat the conservatives is to get some really momentous thing on the ballot. In that sense, the war against Darwin backfired. It got people all over the state very upset. The thing you have to remember that's particular to Kansas is that they dread being labeled as hicks. The war on evolution, which got them headlines all over the world, was their worst nightmare come true. So it got out the moderate vote, and the result was most of the conservative people on the state board of education who came up for reelection were beaten and a number of other conservatives were beaten.


III: "IF THE DEMOCRATS BRING BACK
THE CLASS CRITIQUE OR AT LEAST
CONFRONT THE REPUBLICAN VISION
OF SOCIAL CLASS WITH THEIR OWN
VISION OF SOCIAL CLASS, THEY
COULD WIN OVERWHELMINGLY."

BLVR: What about the Democrats' appeal or lack thereof to the working class?

TF: In some ways, they are as the Republicans describe them. They now try to court the professional class. And they sometimes seem very clumsy when they try to talk to average people. I mean, there are still a lot of Democrats from that tradition, but Kerry isn't. Clinton was better at it. Al Gore certainly couldn't do it. And there are several other examples like him. They seem to have really lost it.

BLVR: How did that happen?

TF: Well, maybe that's the next book. [Laughs] It's a tragic, awful story. It goes back to their having lost so many times. McGovern, Carter, and then Mondale being beaten. And Mondale was your old-school Democrat, your Roosevelt type, and the party seems to have regarded his defeat as a signal that they should abandon that kind of politics and so they've emphasized different things since then.

BLVR: What else is holding the Democrats back?

TF: The Democrats that I've talked to about this, and Kansas Democrats tend to be your old-school kind, say the problem is on the national level. The national party has different ideas about how a situation like this should be played. The national party says, "Let's get the moderates over here." The moderates tend to be pro-choice, and while they're not going to be pro-gay marriage, they're not homophobic, whereas the conservatives use a lot of homophobic rhetoric. The national Democrats say, "Well, these moderates are our kind of voters."

The problem with that is the Democrats are playing precisely into that latté libel, that they are the party of the upper-middle-class professionals. And the Democrats are content with that, or some of them seem to be. If the Democrats bring back the class critique or at least confront the Republican vision of social class with their own vision of social class, they could win overwhelmingly. But as far as I can tell, they're really not interested in doing that. Some are. John Edwards was. I think Howard Dean was. Kerry certainly is not.

BLVR: Why do you think he's steering clear?

TF: That's not where the money is. Remember that corporate America can throw down ten times the amount that organized labor can. This is the thing that makes all the difference in our political lives: the role that money plays.

BLVR: You mention a few times how some conservatives see themselves as being "perfectly happy to be a little overweight and a little underpaid" or "happy to accept their lot in life."

TF: This is the famous denial of class conflict. It's obviously incorrect, but what they mean by that is that they don't have any economic class antagonism. In fact, they have tons of class antagonism; they just don't have any economic-based class antagonism. They hate the rich because they're liberals, not because they're capitalists.

BLVR: Why do you think the economic-based class argument has lost its power?

TF: There is no one who has an interest in making it anymore. This is also the story of the decline of the Democrats and the decline of liberalism. There are very few people making the kind of argument I make. I refer repeatedly to the Populist movement in the 1890s. They were part of a centuries-long working-class movement about social class and social justice and that movement is over now in the United States. There are only remnants of it, like the labor movement. And the labor movement is not very powerful anymore and they become less powerful each year. Neither political party has an interest anymore in making that critique. As I said, Democrats have decided to appeal to the professional class and to others. They'll talk about things like jobs but in a very generic sense. They're not anything like the Democrats of old. If you go back and read speeches by Harry Truman-and he was regarded as a moderate liberal, not a left liberal at all-they're filled with denunciations of corporate America, this hatred of Wall Street and suspicion of the business class. You would never hear those same critiques today.

IV: "CONSERVATISM HAS A MILLION
OTHER THINGS THAT PROPEL IT,
A MILLION OTHER COMPLAINTS THAT
DRIVE IT ALONG. AND TO JUST
BRUSH IT OFF AS RACISM IS TO
MISS THE VITALITY OF IT."

BLVR: You examine Kansas as this microcosm of the conservative movement, but of course not every state has that political or cultural makeup. Besides your own connection, what made Kansas's conservatism particularly interesting? Why not do Alabama?

TF: On the one hand because Kansas is so conservative. And then on the other hand it doesn't come out of that Southern past. I wanted to study backlash conservatism-the backlash is my term for the populist conservatism of the last thirty years-in an environment where you couldn't just write it off as racism.

This is one of the things that has really held back the way liberals think about conservatism. They tend to say, "It's just racism." And that's certainly true in many cases. All this stuff got its start with the Wallace campaign in '68; Wallace was an old-school segregationist, he was bad news. And you had openly racist episodes like the Boston busing riots and stuff like that through the course of the backlash. But that's not the issue in Kansas. There seems to be very little of that kind of feeling so this is a situation where you can't just brush it off that way.

BLVR: So they're the most powerful form of conservatism because they're not racist.

TF: Exactly. And that's why it's so important to pay attention. People think that this type of conservatism is just going to die out as racism disappears. And there's no question that racism is waning; they do studies of people's attitudes and it is a dying force, there's no question about that, but conservatism is not. Conservatism has a million other things that propel it, a million other complaints that drive it along. And to just brush it off as racism is to miss the vitality of it, to not understand what makes it tick. That's why Kansas is important.

BLVR: You say that Kansans are basically voting for these conservative policies that hurt them. Did anybody ever justify it as a solution that may be harmful in the short run but, given a chance to iron itself out, will work in the long run?

TF: Well, it's hard to get people to even talk about the economic issues. Almost nobody will talk about these things with you. When you talk about deregulation or privatization, it's as though you're coming from another planet. Their issues are abortion, guns, public schools, evolution, and so on. That's what they care about. Taxation they care about insofar as they can pull out the props from under the state. If you talk about these things, it's a conversation-stopper. Or sometimes you get a libertarian-type response that if you just let markets be free… For certain kinds of people, there's an almost religious reverence for the free market.

V: "I DON'T BELIEVE THERE IS ANY
OTHER COUNTRY ON EARTH WHERE
THIS IDEOLOGY WOULD WORK.
WHERE AMERICAN CONSERVATISM,
AS IN POP CONSERVATISM,
BACKLASH CONSERVATISM,
WOULD HAVE THIS APPEAL."

BLVR: So there's a parallel between this idea of the free market, "It's natural, don't interfere with it," and this cultural idea of "It's natural for a man and woman to be together and anything else is interference with the natural laws."

TF: Well, there are two different kinds of conservatives. There are the free-market ones, and then the values-oriented cultural conservatives, and they don't really think about globalization. The family-values group, if they think about capitalism at all, they think it's natural. That's what most Americans think: it's natural and intervening in it is artificial, is intellectuals run amok. Both critiques have this boogeyman of liberal intellectuals. For the free-market types the liberal intellectuals are the government regulators and the blue-ribbon panels that are always meddling in their affairs. For the values people, it's the intellectuals like the Yale French Department or the people who make the movies in Hollywood. Both sides are united in anti-intellectualism. That's the Rosetta stone of American conservatism.

BLVR: In many places, the Republican Party is regarded as the American party.

TF: Oh, no! What an awful thing to say. [Laughs] I suppose it is.

BLVR: I'm thinking of how Bush summons the cowboy, this quintessential American image. Do you think that being a Republican on a global scale is also a way of being a rebel and saying, "Screw you, French people. I'm going to be a Republican"?

TF: Well, there are two answers to that. First of all, the Republicans use that language and imagery all the time. "We are defying the world." So it does have that appeal and the French, in particular, are this very useful stereotype to them.

In my last book, One Market under God, I had a whole section on how the French were used as this racial stereotype of the people who didn't understand the New Economy. And now they're being used again as a stereotype but for a totally different purpose. Now they are the country of the liberal elite. One Market under God just came out in French and I did a book tour there; the French are both very amused by this stereotype and horrified by it.

Another thing I should say about Republicans being rebels on a global scale, I don't believe there is any other country on Earth where this ideology would work. Where American conservatism, as in pop conservatism, backlash conservatism, would have this appeal. The French, for example, could not understand Bush's appeal to Americans. I think even French conservatives don't understand it. There's only one place where this could happen and that's red America.

Amazon.com What's the Matter with Kansas How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Thomas Frank Books

In an oft cited quote Frank sums up the situation well "

4.0 out of 5 stars Every Christian Conservative needs to read this book..., July 29, 2004
By E. Martin "scalawagg" (US) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Hardcover)

Thomas Frank is a "progressive," most probably a democratic socialist. He doesn't "get" the "family values." He doesn't "get" christianity. He doesn't "get" why a member of the working class would give themselves over to fighting against abortion or gay marriage or evolution, instead of labor organizing. Nonetheless, he throws light the way only an outsider can on why the "religious right" does yoeman service year in and year out for the Republican party and has so little to show for it.

In an oft cited quote Frank sums up the situation well "

What Frank forgets is it doesn't always go according to plan.

These achievements usually draw backhanded praise from the left, who are if anything more concerned with ideological purity than the "religious right."

Frank decries the "culture wars" and fundamentalist zealots being sucked up into them, but he neglects the extent the left has been sucked up as well. While he discusses the DLC strategy of of hanging to abortion and gay rights as defining issues. He doesn't discuss how the NAACP's crusade against the confederate flag distracts from more substantial political and economic issues or how the "anti-racist/diversity-valuing/multiculturalist" politics of identity that so dominates academic discourse alienates the left from the very people who they purport to be in solidarity with. Nor does he mention the extent to which the Democratic party has systematically purged "pro-life" members from any public forum.

Nonetheless Frank deserves credit he show how "social conservatives" cannot be dismissed a mere racists. And he shows how they engaged in grassroots politics of the sort that unions and other "progressive" entities have forgotten or gotten too lazy to do.

The great unasked question is what would happen if we tried to reverse the formula Frank describes, what if by trying fighting media concentration we can stem the debasement of popular entertainment; by seeking to keep manufacturing at home, we can promote strong families; what if we had instant voter runoff or proportional represenation, christian conservatives wouldn't be stuck with the rotten "lesser of two evils" option that those on the left complain about; what if by forcing a debate on the virtues of the Market, we lead to a reconsideration of neo-Darwinism (and the Malthusian economics it rests upon).

In other words instead of just dismissing "family values" as a purely "private concern" we could frame them within the larger, menacing developments of the new, global economy. But such thinking is far beyond the average lefty who's busy arguing the merits of vegan versus lacto-ovo. This is a job the much maligned "religious right" may have to do. And as many of the best union songs used to be spirituals, so to there might be a rebirth a an real populism of the sort that set Kansas abaze a little over 100 years ago.

34 of 41 people found the following review helpful:

4.0 out of 5 stars Great analysis. It's the suggested cure that bothers me., March 25, 2005

By Jack Lechelt "Jackyred" (Virginia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)
This review is from: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Hardcover)

Frank offers a great explanation for why so many regular folks back a party that will not help them economically. By substituting social issues that will not address the regular Joes' needs in place of economic issues, the right is able to see their economic concerns addressed. Those concerns are, and have always been, tax cuts, deregulation, and laissez-faire capitalism. Amazingly, the regular folk never really see much policy progress on the social-issues front.

My major concern is that Frank believes the modern Democratic Party is too moderate and business-friendly. There are many on the left who agree with him. As I see it, if the Democrats are to embrace Frank's remedies and move the party further to the left, the Democrats will only see more election losses. Whether or not a moderate Democratic Party is good or bad is a secondary matter. Stopping a conservative-led government from enacting its policy preferences should be far more important to the Democratic Party than having proud liberal-Democratic losses. The only Democrat to win - and that was with pluralities, not majorities - was Clinton. Perhaps he was not liberal enough for most Democrats, but having him as president sure beat losing!

As the country continues to face mounting deficits, federal court nominations of conservative justices, and further retreats from modest social safety net protections, hopefully future party squabbles will be minimized so that we can keep our eyes on the prize.

A final note: many liberals believe that moderates do not have firm beliefs and are too willing to compromise important values. I can't speak for all moderates, but I know that my beliefs are firmly held. And one of those important beliefs IS compromise. The idea that one must "give to get" is of core importance to me. That does not mean that I care less or that I am willing give away anything for next-to-nothing. In politics we must pick and choose wisely. Unfortunately, for the past few elections, we have not done too much with any wisdom. Maybe better times lie ahead. Hell, they can't get any worse (gulp).


4.0 out of 5 stars The Cynical Exploitation of Working Class Obsession; 4.5 *s, June 30, 2004

By One Man's View (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)
This review is from: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Hardcover)

The central concern of this book is the seemingly irrational flocking of sizeable segments of the working and middle classes to the Republican camp in the last two decades. Economically, that political shift makes no sense. By focusing on the particulars of this political development in his native state, Kansas, Frank provides keen insight into what appears to be the self-immolation of the working class.

The author begins by pointing out that Kansas was in the forefront of the populist movement of the 1890s. The largely farming population was aggrieved by low crop prices and exorbitant costs imposed by furnishing agents and railroads. They found business interests to be their primary oppressors and called for governmental intervention in the economy. It was a decidedly leftist movement of "producers versus parasites."

The 1990s also were not kind to "producers." Heartland America was subjected to deindustrialization, off shoring, and stagnating wages, while elites prospered. But strangely, these disruptions no longer generated withering economic critiques; market forces were seen as perhaps causing dislocations but were held to be blameless. Instead working people began to feel strongly that such cultural issues as abortion, gay liberation, vulgarity in entertainment, and even public education were to blame for disturbances in their lives and in society at large. But these same people are unwilling to squarely pinpoint the origins of culture in the U.S.

Huge corporations largely dictate culture in the US. Unsurprisingly, cultural directions set by media and entertainment concerns are determined by what sells. Universities and government mostly reinforce business interests. But these structural connections are generally not the concern of those feeling socially besieged. These new populists are most concerned with the imagined lifestyles of the so-called liberal elites of these despised institutions. The influence of latte drinking, wine and cheese tasting, European vacationing, and liberal sexual practicing snobbish liberal elites, who of course are staunch Democrats, must be vigorously resisted by supporting conservative political forces. The fact that business elites share the same cultural background of the loathed liberal elites goes unnoticed. Those business elites further obscure their role in culture by making the claim that they too are helpless against the liberal cultural assault.

The alliance of moderate business elites, from whom the leaders of the Republican party are frequently drawn, with a conservative base of working people is one of convenience if not outright cynicism. Business leaders and their spokespersons tolerate, and sometimes join in, conservative railings against liberal culture thereby gaining the voting support to carry out a pro-business political program. It can hardly be doubted that the deregulation, privatization, and union-busting agenda of corporate America has been greatly harmful to their base of supporters. As the author notes, the fanning of the flames of cultural discontent have make good business sense. But it is also interesting that the political process seldom delivers on conservative promises to roll back morality practice.

Perhaps this turn to cultural issues is not too surprising. The producerist ethic was well on its way out by the late 1920s. An economic analysis of society based on class was replaced by classless consumerism where everyone had equal rights to consume. Markets are now regarded as neutral, if not benign. Discontent must be due to reasons other than economic structure. The author also notes that both the media and entertainment industry perpetuate this sanitized, mechanistic version of economic workings, where people cannot be blamed for disruptions. The theme of working stiff as a victim of cultural perversity and excess has become a very powerful rallying cry. The strength of that explanation is maintained by the continual feeding of examples of cultural decadence by conservative spokesmen, especially talk-show hosts.

The author, in the end, finds that the deterioration of the economic landscape for a working class obsessed with cultural issues will continue in any foreseeable future. As he says, "Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse. It invites us all to join in, to lay down our lives so that others might cash out at the top; to renounce forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness." This book is a strong indictment of the strength our democracy. If people cannot get beyond delusions, no way can a society operate in a coherent, rational manner.

Amazon.com Customer Reviews What's the Matter with Kansas How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

The author writes a somewhat satirical look at middle America 's political affliations. He has two major thesis.

So the effect of this is to have a reverse French Revolution in which the common man votes Republican and against his/her economic interests. So farming communities shrivel up, unions die, people go without health care.

Frank a native Kansan explores with humor and interviews peeople of the backlash movement.He bemoans the fact that populism -a left wing philosophy born in the mid west is dead. William Jennings Bryan a fundamentalist Christian was a liberal Democratic Senator from Nebraska. He explores this transformation and his diagnosis would make Clinton supporters and free market libertarians both angry. Since he offend both ends of the spectra his observations should be taken seriously.

Certainly their are flaws in his thesis. if the Republican party is only paying lip service to social issues ,why are Democrats so afraid of their Supreme Court picks. If Clinton was in the pay of moneyed interests why was the right so mobilized against Hillary's health care plan ?

This is a provocative book that explains Red and White state differences and the psychology of political self delusion (Blue collar people voting for big money interests)

Amazon.com The Wrecking Crew How Conservatives Rule Thomas Frank Books

49 of 55 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Depressingly Compelling Review of Conservatives' Philosophy of Government in Practice , August 15, 2008
By Steve Koss (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME)
Following up on his masterly examination of the paradox under which Red Staters consistently vote Republican against their own economic self-interest (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?), Thomas Frank sets out to trace the present-day conservative Republican approach to government in THE WRECKING CREW. What he demonstrates is deeply disturbing even though it has remained on display virtually every day of the entire Bush II administration.

According to Frank, the conservative worldview is totally committed to "the ideal of laissez faire, meaning minimal government interference in the marketplace, along with hostility to taxation, regulation, organized labor, state ownership, and all the business community's other enemies. "The conservative movement promotes the interests of business exclusively over all else in accordance with the motto, "More business in government, less government in business." So-called "big government," also tagged as the liberal state, is the enemy; in fact, virtually all government is the enemy, other than the national defense.

Mr. Frank follows the conservative movement from the turn of the Twentieth Century through the Depression and New Deal, focusing most heavily on the movement's rebirth under Ronald Reagan and on into the new millennium. Along the way, he discusses the growth of lobbying as a major force in converting the nation's capital into a massive feeding ground for corporate special interests. Frank also highlights the manner in which conservatives have repeatedly run the country into huge spending deficits in order to "defund the left" while simultaneously politicizing government management positions by favoring ideology over competence. The end result under Republican conservative stewardship is government that demonstrates itself as ineffectual and incompetent, offering but further proof that big government is inherently incapable of working and needs to be outsourced to private, professional concerns who can do the job correctly (and then inevitably failing to do so).

THE WRECKING CREW is filled with fascinating side observations, such as its note that the movement has always lionized bullies, from Joe McCarthy to Bill O'Reilly, from Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay to George Allen and Michelle Malkin (whom Frank describes hilariously as "a pundit with the appearance of a Bratz doll but the soul of Chucky"). The book's most effective and outrage-generating section has to be its chapter on the Marianas Island of Saipan. Frank casts Saipan, with all its corruption, nepotism, income inequity, slave labor sweatshops, and local political control exercised in the name of big business as the perfect and ultimate model of the conservative movement ideal, a truly horrific prospect. He also notes, properly, that the morass that is today's Iraq is equally a product of the attempt to force fit these same free market ideals to a foreign country, implemented (so the Bush Administration hoped) by inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears young idealogues, home-schooled ultra-Christians with college degrees from the likes of Patrick Henry College, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and Pat Robertson's Regent University. Saipan and Iraq constituted "laboratories of liberty," modern-day "capitalists' dreams" whose realizations are (or at least should be) shameful American nightmares.

There is little good news in THE WRECKING CREW.

Author Frank shows that our national government has been hollowed out under Republican conservative control, savaged into an ineffectual husk. Furthermore, he illustrates clearly that this was no mistake, that it is part of a deliberate process not just to privatize government and eradicate government regulation but to make these changes permanent by destroying the liberal left (and with it, of course, the Democratic Party). Frank demonstrates well that present day politics has truly become, to invert von Clausiwitz's famous maxim, "a continuation of war by other means." Regrettably, one side of the battle continues to play the game as politics, as elections won or lost and citizens swayed or not, while the other side approaches it as an act of war, a no-holds-barred contest in which the only goal is the complete and utter destruction of the other side.

THE WRECKING CREW is compelling and informative even as it paints a bleak picture of an America being driven rightward and increasingly toward the excesses and inequities of the pre-New Deal era. We all know how that era ended in October, 1929.



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The Last but not Least


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