What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

In This Review

What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

By Thomas Frank
Metropolitan Books, 2004
320 pp. $24.00
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This fresh and engaging book stands out in the torrent of political screeds now pouring off the presses. Written by a man of the left, What's the Matter with Kansas? examines the rise of ultraconservative politics in the state that was once known for agrarian populism. The new activists, Frank says, are lower-middle-and working-class people-in past decades, the backbone of social democratic politics in Kansas. Why, Frank asks, do working-class Kansans labor to support a right-wing agenda that will strip them of social benefits, lower their wages, and provide enormous tax windfalls to the rich? Frank's eye is keen, and his pen is nimble; his answers are sadly conventional. He sees the contemporary Democratic Party as an odious mix of economic conservatism (the Democratic Leadership Council) and decadent social liberalism (Hollywood), and with the two parties united on antiworker economics, Kansas voters act rationally when they choose the party that at least pretends to respect their social values. A sharp turn to the economic left, Frank believes, will ultimately revive Democratic fortunes and stop the New Right in its tracks. Many thoughtful and spirited people have reached this conclusion in the past; none ever managed to build the powerful socialist party of their dreams. Perhaps Frank will succeed where others have failed.