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

Frank, Thomas

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One of “our most insightful social observers”* cracks the great political mystery of our time: how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans

With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank turns his eye on what he calls the “thirty-year backlash”—the populist revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment. The high point of that backlash is the Republican Party’s success in building the most unnatural of alliances: between blue-collar Midwesterners and Wall Street business interests, workers and bosses, populists and right-wingers.

In asking “what ’s the matter with Kansas?”—how a place famous for its radicalism became one of the most conservative states in the union—Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of us vote against our economic interests? Where’s the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? The questions are urgent as well as provocative. Frank answers them by examining pop conservatism—the bestsellers, the radio talk shows, the vicious political combat—and showing how our long culture wars have left us with an electorate far more concerned with their leaders’ “values” and down-home qualities than with their stands on hard questions of policy.

A brilliant analysis—and funny to boot— What’s the Matter with Kansas? presents a critical assessment of who we are, while telling a remarkable story of how a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs came to convince a nation that they spoke on behalf of the People.

* Los Angeles Times

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The largely blue collar citizens of Kansas can be counted upon to be a "red" state in any election, voting solidly Republican and possessing a deep animosity toward the left. This, according to author Thomas Frank, is a pretty self-defeating phenomenon, given that the policies of the Republican Party benefit the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the average worker. According to Frank, the conservative establishment has tricked Kansans, playing up the emotional touchstones of conservatism and perpetuating a sense of a vast liberal empire out to crush traditional values while barely ever discussing the Republicans' actual economic policies and what they mean to the working class. Thus the pro-life Kansas factory worker who listens to Rush Limbaugh will repeatedly vote for the party that is less likely to protect his safety, less likely to protect his job, and less likely to benefit him economically. To much of America, Kansas is an abstract, "where Dorothy wants to return. Where Superman grew up." But Frank, a native Kansan, separates reality from myth in What's the Matter with Kansas and tells the state's socio-political history from its early days as a hotbed of leftist activism to a state so entrenched in conservatism that the only political division remaining is between the moderate and more-extreme right wings of the same party. Frank, the founding editor of The Baffler and a contributor to Harper's and The Nation, knows the state and its people. He even includes his own history as a young conservative idealist turned disenchanted college Republican, and his first-hand experience, combined with a sharp wit and thorough reasoning, makes his book more credible than the elites of either the left and right who claim to understand Kansas. --John Moe

About the Author:

Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, What's the Matter with Kansas?, and One Market Under God. A former opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and a monthly columnist for Harper's. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

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