Saturday, March 20, 2004

Our Gilded Age
I am going to start asking for a commission from Harper's Magazine, as long as I'm going to keep recommending articles from it in this space. And in the April issue, there's another must-read: "Lie Down for America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains," by Thomas Frank. It's Frank's second brilliant Harper's essay in less than a year--last June's "Get Rich or Get Out: Attempted Robbery With a Loaded Federal Budget" was nothing less than a prosecutor's brief for impeachment or an argument for revolution.

In "Lie Down for America," Frank tries to figure out why his native state of Kansas is one of the firmest red states in the Union--why it consistently votes Republican, even though Republican policies have destroyed its economy. The reason: They just don't know, and are unwilling to see, how what they think they're voting for is not what they end up getting, and how the pattern is repeated in election after election. The essay does a great job of describing the incoherence driving Kansans to support the GOP: the firm belief that the GOP is the party of fair dealing, smaller government, and the little guy, battling against special interests and big spenders, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. He quotes one Kansan as saying, "We're tired of hard times on Main Street and good times on Wall Street." Then Frank remarks, incredulous, that such Kansans voted for Bush to punish Wall Street.

That Kansans should be such sheeplike participants in their own slaughter is odd, Frank notes, given the history of Kansas as the birthplace of the Populist movement, a radical attempt by farmers of the 1880s and 1890s to rewrite the economic rules that favored plutocrats during the Gilded Age. But Frank finds that the radical energy is still there--only it's channeled into the GOP's culture war against gays, immigrants, and modernity, where it ultimately ends up contained so that it can't do any real damage to the contemporary plutocracy.

I have precious little hope that Democrats can persuade those voting 180 degrees in opposition to their true interests to think about what they're actually doing. After all, we've got our own plutocrat at the top of our ticket--nobody's going to take John Kerry all that seriously as a man of the people. The Republicans know it, and they'll exploit it. But Frank is onto something terrifically powerful--and if Democrats can find succinct ways to make the same arguments, there's no way they can lose.

A word about the ads: You may have noticed the Blogspot/Google ads at the top of this page, and how over the last couple of days, they have been for organizations and products I wouldn't endorse in a million years--such as the Republican National Committee and a place selling Bush/Cheney '04 campaign gear. I don't have much control over the ads, as they are generated based on the words that appear frequently in my blog. Clearly I need to start spelling certain words like the discreet obscenities they are: B*sh and Ch*n*y. Or maybe I should talk about Kerry some more. At any rate, the ads aren't mine, I don't get any money from them, and for God's sake, don't click 'em.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?