Review: Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas

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

This is one of the most read (or at least most discussed) political commentary texts of 2000s. It seems like everyone I know is familiar with the thesis – that Kansas is an example of what is strange (and Frank thinks, wrong) about American electoral politics – people will vote against their economic interests if they think such voting is in line with their moral concerns. So, though the Republican Party shits all over working class people, they will continue to vote for them because the party stands for pro-life and other conservative social causes that resonate in the Heartland. Frank’s proposal to the Democratic Party seems to be to run an economic populism platform, and downplay the social issues that don’t resonate outside of the coasts.

Frank is at least partially right in his thesis. People do not always vote their economic interests (Frank has joked in the past that this book could just as easily have been called What’s the Matter with Connecticut). But to reduce people’s “interests’ to their economic interests is simplistic, and not enough time is spent on how economic issues are framed with great success by the Republicans.

There are some throw away parts of this one as well, Frank does a mini-profile of a fringe religious figure Pope Michael, which is just stupid, and there isn’t much in the way of hard sociological data to back up a lot of Frank’s assertions. Still, the book was worth reading.

As a random aside, I was fascinated by how a number of the pro-life activists in this book equate themselves with the radical struggle against slavery (Think John Brown and Bloody Kansas). Many of my lefty friends idolize John Brown, and it is interesting to see the same hero worship from the other side.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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