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Sunday, July 18, 2004

RED-STATE AMERICA AGAINST ITSELF 

Why do so many people in poorer regions of the country consistently undermine their own economic self-interest by voting for conservative politicians?

Thomas Frank of the Baffler has an answer: democrats have given up the language of "class warfare," and handed most cultural issues over to the republicans; consequently, as the dems have shifted rightward economically (especially under Clinton), there's little or nothing left to distiguish themselves to voters. Given the choice between a party that represents neither their cultural nor economic interests and one that at least agrees with their conservative views on abortion, gay rights, etc., more and more Americans have voted conservative. Frank examines this trend in his home state of Kansas, and comes up with an interesting analysis.

We linked to this article on the main BushWhackedUSA page a couple days ago, but I wanted to revisit it here with the hope of sparking some discussion. So, take a look at Red-State America Against Itself and let me know what you think. I'll check back a few times today.

Here's an excerpt:

American conservatism depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet. For example, the connection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservation. Or between the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust -- which forces they praise in the most exalted terms.

In this onrushing parade of anti-knowledge my home state has proudly taken a place at the front. It is true that Kansas is an extreme case, and that there are still working-class areas here that are yet to be converted to the Con gospel. But it is also true that things that begin in Kansas --the Civil War, Prohibition, Populism, Pizza Hut -- have a historical tendency to go national.

Maybe Kansas, instead of being a laughingstock, is actually in the vanguard. Maybe what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading. Maybe someday soon the political choices of Americans everywhere will be whittled down to the two factions of the Republican Party. Whether the Mods still call themselves "Republicans" then or have switched to being Democrats won't really matter: both groups will be what Kansans call "fiscal conservatives," which is to say "friends of business," and the issues that motivated our parents' Democratic Party will be permanently off the table.

Sociologists often warn against letting the nation's distribution of wealth become too polarized, as it clearly has in the last few decades. Societies that turn their backs on equality, the professors insist, inevitably meet with a terrible comeuppance. But those sociologists were thinking of an old world in which class anger was a phenomenon of the left. They weren't reckoning with Kansas, with the world we are becoming.

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