Thursday, June 17, 2004

Thomas Frank, in What's Wrong with Kansas?, points out that it is deranged for people to vote with increasingly fierce commitment for politicians who promise cultural change but fail to deliver it, especially when those same politicians do great economic harm to the middle and lower class. Backlash leaders simply "downplay the politics of economics" and concentrate (watch the shiny object!) on making ordinary Americans feel unfairly persecuted by the liberals. They want old-fashioned values restored.
. . . [B]ut once conservatives are in office the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulations. . . . The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may "matter most" to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won.
The trick never ages. The illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.
As a formula for holding together a dominant political coalition, the backlash seems so improbable and self-contradictory that liberal observers often have trouble believing it is actually happening. By all rights, they figure, these two groups--business and blue-collar--should be at each other's throats. For the Republican Party to present itself as the champion of working-class America strikes liberals as such an egregious denial of political reality that they dismiss the whole phenomenon, refusing to take it seriously. The Great Backlash, they believe, is nothing but crypto-racism, or a disease of the elderly, or the random gripings of religious rednecks, or the protests of "angry white men" feeling left behind by history.

We've misunderstood the phenomenon long enough, at great cost to ourselves and to this country as a whole--at great cost, indeed, to the very people who espouse it. Understanding it may help us change the dynamic. So, from time to time, I will be summarizing what Frank has to tell us about the details of what he calls "this derangement." Of course, you could beat me to the punch by just buying the book.


Post a Comment

<< Home