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Tom Frank's Intellectual Hole

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this scathing Raleigh News & Observer review of Thomas Frank's bestselling What's the Matter with Kansas?:

The contemptuousness of Frank's analysis does not make it wrong. Perhaps rafts of his fellow Kansans—and working-class Americans across the country—are gullible pawns, so out of touch with the reality of their own lives that voting has become, for them, a form of self-immolation….

Rather than interview a representative sample of these folks to understand their thinking, Frank arrogantly concludes that they suffer "derangement." What else but a mental condition—and a healthy dollop of ignorance—could prevent them from seeing Frank's light?

This lack of curiosity and empathy is particularly troubling. If we no longer see the point of understanding one another, how can we bridge the gaps between us?…

For Frank…politics hinges less on measurable results than emotional perception. Liberalism has not declined because people prefer alternatives, they maintain, but because Republicans have seized control of reality itself—twisting truth to demonize their saintly opponents and cover their horns and tails with a Wal-Mart halo.

Thus, liberals do not proclaim that President Bush is wrong or misguided but that he's a liar and a con artist—throughout his book, Frank refers to conservatives as the "Cons." The suggestion is that Bush and his allies do not believe what they say, that deep down they know the liberals are right. Driven by dark and evil forces, they deceive the people for their party's selfish ends.

"What's the Matter With Kansas?" is a lazy, self-satisfied work. It is also an important one. It shows how deep an intellectual hole liberals have dug for themselves. Its success suggests how hard it will be for them to crawl out from it.

Whole thing here.

Reason's Jesse Walker reviewed the same book here.

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  1. While that book’s conclusions are silly, the fact remains that Kansas suffers from a moderate-to-severe infestation of bible-thumpers and christian right types. These people think metaphysical speculation should be taught in science classes, fer chrissakes.

  2. They can’t shake the idea the organizing principle of their coalition, that self interest is identical to free goodies. Liberals have always believed that the only reason they don’t win every election is low turnout. Recent events seem to have had little affect on this perception.

    Then, too, there is the drinking of their own rhetorical Kool Aid. The standard rhetorical trick of the left for the last decade or more is to define yourself to be mainstream and everyone else as extremists, hence the extremist judges who are skeptical of univeral regulatory authority under the commerce clause and so forth. How could you be taken in by someone so EXTREME!
    Blah.

  3. People like electing strong forceful personalities. Worked for Adolph Hitler, works in our increasingly fascist country.

  4. “These people think metaphysical speculation should be taught in science classes, fer chrissakes.”

    If they change the definition of science in Kansas, I wonder how long it’ll take for some bright child to answer “God did it” on science tests.

    And be marked correct.

  5. People like electing strong forceful personalities.

    Leaving aside your Godwinesque comment, does W really count as a “forceful personality”? He has a well-disciplined cult of personality around him, but he isn’t a great orator, he isn’t charismatic, he doesn’t come across as confident, or any of the other traits that would be associated with a forceful personality.

    In Tolkien language, it’s always possible that the Shadow may one day fall upon this country and take the shape of a fascist dictator, but I don’t think W is that dictator. At most he’s preparing the way, but the same could be said of his predecessors who have done their part to eviscerate the Bill of Rights. W may seem worse, but that’s only because his predecessors have made it easier for him to do more damage.

    If W is the keymaster, who is the gatekeeper?

    And whatever you do, don’t even think about giant marshmellows.

  6. Too late, damn it.

  7. Liberals have always believed that the only reason they don’t win every election is low turnout

    I had a PoliSci prof say exactly that in the early 90’s.

  8. temujin,

    You should never have let your sons divide central Asia like that. Mongolia was never the same.

    And I had to clean up their mess!

  9. Off topic, but what I really hate about W is that fucking smirk he’s constantly doing at the end of sentences. He could be talking about how a bunch of our boys got blown up in Iraq, and he’d still throw out the smirk at the end when he counters with just how admirably our boys are performing over there.

    Other than that, he hasn’t turned out too much worse than any of the past few presidents. He got us into the Iraq thing, bad, and he’s spent a shitload of our money, bad, but Kerry woulda been worse?

  10. but, but, but, isn’t it true, isn’t it agreed that the entire country of Austria needs therapy? Why not the state of Kansas?

  11. And I mean the “state” not the “State.”

  12. Jon-

    That would be hilarious.

    I’m almost tempted to apply for a job as a science teacher in Kansas. For every subject the answer will be “Because God made it that way.”

    How many valence electrons does a carbon atom have? However many God wanted it to have.

    A 1 kg weight is hanging from a pendulum. What is the period of oscillation? Whatever God wants it to be.

    Which chemical in the red blood cell binds to oxygen? Whichever compound that God designed for that purpose.

    I’ll teach this way for a week and then invite the Kansas Board of Education to visit my classroom and observe a science lesson. I’ll proudly show them a stack of exams on which every student got 100% because they answered every question by invoking God.

    I’m sure I’ll be given tenure and a raise.

  13. Maybe for the Advanced Placement students I’ll explain the medical theory of the 4 humours and the geocentric theory of planetary motion.

  14. Hmmm… There are still a core group of people who hate Clinton (pick one or both) pretty vehemently, and a different core group who will continue to hate Bush.

    And I suspect that once a new Prez is elected, there’ll be a bunch of folks who vehemently hate the new Prez.

    But the rest of us will move on. It always seems like a big deal when the Prez is your group’s personal hate totem/punching bag. Then a new election cycle hits and someone we never heard of before makes their way through the primaries to become the Prez.

    People never are able to realize that this Presidency, too, shall pass. I think worrying that the current guy or even the next guy will be sworn in as “President For Life” is pretty far-fetched.

  15. Ok, FDR nearly pulled it off, but then we got busy with the term limits…

  16. Leftists’ wrath regarding Bush is a product of their own devising: It is they who created the notion of President-As-Omnipotent-Master, a decidedly non-American concept whose fruition came in the form of FDR.

    After empowering the presidency (along with the rest of government) in this way, it was only a matter of time until somebody of the opposite ideological persuasion stepped into the spot. The left fears Bush because it has allowed the presidency to become a source for fearful stuff.

    So how about this: We’ll let you impeach Bush if you let us get rid of the New Deal.

  17. rob,

    I guess you could argue that FDR, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy were “elected for life,” because they died in office.

  18. Tamerlane writes: “And I had to clean up their mess!”

    Ah shaddup, gimpy.

  19. thoreau writes: “I’m almost tempted to apply for a job as a science teacher in Kansas. For every subject the answer will be “Because God made it that way.””

    And it’d be supported by the state science standard – which allows science to include non-natural causes.

    If a student answers the way you suggested (even if the teacher plays it straight) they’ll be able to contend that their answer is correct, and the teacher can’t prove otherwise.

    Even if the teacher demands a specific quantitative answer, the student could reasonably respond that such answers are beside the point, because God’s will could change at any time. The atomic weight of helium is, at any moment, what it is because God wills it thus. Stating a particular value could be contrary to God’s will, because it might have changed in the meantime.

    So, in order to stay on the safe side, it would be best to generalize, rather than committing to a value that could be heretical.

  20. I’m curious why Nick Gillespie thought this review worthy of anyone’s attention. It’s clearly the reviewer who is lazy and self-satisfied. He obviously didn’t bother to take the time to read Frank’s book. He probably assumed he could get the gist of it by reading the bookjacket and then simply creating a liberal strawman to tear down.

    You can certainly make a good case that Frank is oversimplifying, and just plain wrong, but he is not “contemptuous.” He states many times that Kansans are not wrong to vote conservative considering that the Democrats don’t offer a viable alternative. And not only DID Frank in fact interview a considerable segment of the population, pace the reviewer’s assertions to the contrary, he grew up in Kansas and knows the state pretty well. His thesis is in fact the opposite of what the reviewer seems to think it is – Frank blames the decline of liberalism squarely on the moderates of the Democratic party who have betrayed the party’s economic populism. Now there are a lot of problems with this thesis, but the reviewer can’t argue with it since he doesn’t even seem to understand what Frank is trying to say.

    Notably the reviewer can’t even be bothered to spend more than a few paragraphs on the book before going off on a rant about what “liberals” believe. In reality Frank has always been well outside the mainstream of American liberal thought.

    It is the reviewer who is guilty of a “lack of curiosity and empathy”.

  21. The reviewer’s thesis, that ordinary Kansans do not vote against their own perceived self interest, would be a lot more repsectable if Kansans did not support by huge majorities programs like universal health care, the minimum wage, environmental and worker safety regs, and the other pillars of liberal thought.

    Unfortunately for him, they do. The idea that Kansans are voting Republican because Republican economic policies have massive public support is demonstrably false.

  22. The reviewer’s thesis, that ordinary Kansans do not vote against their own perceived self interest, would be a lot more repsectable if Kansans did not support by huge majorities programs like universal health care, the minimum wage, environmental and worker safety regs, and the other pillars of liberal thought.

    Uh huh. One more reason to be afraid. One day the religious right and the religious left will resolve their differences and use the force of law to impose all of their idiocies on all of us.

    What a wonderful future.

  23. Just wanted to add that Jesse Walker’s review is excellent, making me even more curious why Reason felt the need to offer us this piece of crap.

  24. “this scathing Raleigh News & Observer review…”

    From the review:

    “It shows how deep an intellectual hole liberals have dug for themselves.”

    But, but…the Raleigh News & Observer is ITSELF a fanatically left-wing (“liberal”) paper.

    This is a paper that tentatively called the bombing of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan a good thing. And then when confronted with OVERWHELMING evidence that the plant only made pharmaceuticals, refused to retract their initial opinion!

    Mark Bahner (FORMER subscriber)

    P.S. The News & Observers routine endorsement of EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRAT in federal, state, and local elections I could live with. But who in the world would subscribe to a paper that has editorials supporting terrorism?

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