Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, February 20, 2006

Thomas Frank is a Republican agent

Well, probably not but he might as well be.

Via Steve Gilliard, this dailyKos diary about the new $500 million Bush program to go to faith-based (read: conservative Christian) organizations working on strengthening marriages.

The money specifically cannot be used to help gay couples.

There’s been a lot of left/liberal media hubbub over Frank's idea that Kansas voters are stupid to vote for their religious/social/cultural interests and against their own personal economic interests (which they indeed do), and that they’re especially stupid because the Republicans don’t even give them the reactionary social policies that they crave.

The people like Frank who think the Kansas voters are getting taken for a ride can kiss my broken toenail -- maybe their magical thinking will make my owie go away.

Frank's story sells because there has always been a lucrative market for telling city folk how stupid country folk are. His misplaced condescension flatters city folk as it pisses off and motivates country folk. Meanwhile, Frank's analysis works to lull socially liberal suburbanites into opposing the Republicans less than they otherwise would, while Rove & Co. push the big "security" con. The real rubes, the real marks of the deal, are the socially liberal voters who pull the R lever for "security" reasons while flattering themselves that the R's aren't as bad on social issues as the R's themselves say they are. The exact reverse is the truth: The R's are terrible on security and they make good on their socially repressive promises to Frank's Kansans. If Rove doesn't cut Thomas Frank a big check for services rendered . . . well, Frank's getting paid already.

Well, Frank's a Marxist. So he thinks you're an idiot if you vote your cultural opinions over your material interests. Which is certainly the case with the people he talks about. Which seems easy enough to believe if you think about rural Kansans, but less so if you think about, say, Hollywood celebs voting their liberal culture rather than for upper-class tax breaks, which I assume Frank and I agree is the moral thing to do. This is where Frank's surprisingly old fashioned (for such a hip guy) vulgar materialism breaks down.

Fact is, Kansans probably don't think the Democrats will support their material interests either, which I suspect is Frank's point: His book would have gotten less attention but been more useful under the title What's the Matter with Democrats.

But I do think you're being a little tough on him. I highly doubt Tom Frank has changed anybody's vote anywhere. And if any Democratic candidates change their political strategies to be more working-class-economics oriented from reading that book, it'll be a good thing. Unfortunately, it might not help them win because of the weirdly aspirational way Americans tend to perceive their class interests, often identifying with the class they hope to become rather than the one they're in. At least until they're older, at which point a higher belief in stability and authority kicks in. To throw a mass of generalizations into the Ergo We're All Fucked barrel.
Frank isn't hip. He's a profound snob. He wrote a horrific article in Harper's a few years back about how stupid & insipid pop music is, and how anybody clever should be able to crack it, and, in fact, a terribly bright and clever pal of his tried very hard to do just that, and his friend didn't make it, which just goes to prove, according to Frank, how insipid pop music is, since the fans don't even recognize how clever and talented and bright his friend is.

I haven't read his Kansas book, because the problem isn't, What's the Matter with Democrats, it's, What's the Matter with Snobs.

A bright and talented and unjustly unrecognized friend of mine HAS read Frank's Kansas book, and he also thinks I'm being unfair to Frank, that the book is much more subtle than the media caricature of it. But a media critic like Frank should know how media caricatures work. The central narrative of the 2000 campaign was how moderate and reasonable and down-to-earth and likeable Bush is. Lies, lies, lies; and the way Frank's book has been caricatured has fed that lie. Given Frank's snobbery in other venues, I don't doubt that he does indeed have a mistakenly snobbish attitude to his fellow Kansans.

As for Ergo We're Doomed -- remember: liberals are the majority. That's why conservatives have to lie all the time. Very good point about class-aspiration-identity and how it works; I also agree that poor populist instincts have hurt the democrats in national elections; but my feeling is that the populism has to come in the form of persona more importantly than economic policy. Bad-ass-itude wins national elections. (That, and cheating like crazy, if you're a Republican.)
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