don’t be put off by the questions… it’ll be fun

The first meeting of the Ypsi-Arbor Progressive Reading Group is this Thursday evening and, so far, I’ve only been able to read a few pages of the book we’ll be discussing, Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.” So, I need to force myself to leave the computer now and head upstairs with it… Before I go, however, I wanted to share the following questions with you. I just received them from my friend Jim, the EMU professor who will be leading our discussion.

In “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Tom Frank tries to explain why so many working and middle class people have become political conservatives, against their own economic interests. Frank argues that this new conservatism represents a backlash against a liberalism perceived as arrogant and elitist, and that this marriage of populist rhetoric with pro-business policies has been possible by a “systematic erasure of the economic” (127). Most of the book consists in an alternatively entertaining and depressing description of this backlash. Some questions Frank’s account raises for me are:

1. What are the causes of this backlash? Is Frank correct in claiming that, in Kansas at least, racism is not a basic cause of the backlash (174+)?

2. Is Frank correct in arguing on 242-8 that liberals are largely responsible for the backlash, because of their failure to address economic and class issues, their taking for granted the support of lower and lower middle class voters, and their lack of success in movement building?

3. How do we respond to this backlash? Should the Democrats do as Frank suggests, and embrace more economically progressive politics? Is he right in claiming that Democrats do not need to abandon their progressive stances on cultural issues (abortion, school prayer, etc., 245)?

I’m fifty pages into the book now, and it’s pretty interesting reading. If you have a chance to pick a copy up, and if you live within driving distance of Ypsi, drop by and join in on the conversation… And don’t be too put off by the formality of Jim’s questions. There won’t be a test. There will just be, I hope, a good, honest discussion of what practical steps we can take to turn the political tide in this country around.

OK, I need to get back to reading now… Goodnight, my invisible friends.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted February 6, 2005 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Here’s a fun tidbit… I was the pastry chef at the restaurant “40 Sardines” on page 50. It definitely was impressive how quickly that area grew in just a few years. When Cory started teaching, his school was just 2 years old with dirt roads a block away. When he left, two years later, the whole area was filled in with houses and a massive strip-mall.

  2. mark
    Posted February 6, 2005 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Susanne, I was hoping that we might get a real Kansinian in the group. (I hear they

  3. Posted February 6, 2005 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I unfortunately have to work that evening. Plus I haven’t made it too much further in the book than page 50. Cory on the other hand might be able to make it if he can finish an interview in time. I sure hope he can because he is the most “delightfully average” man I know. We are talking personality here right?

  4. mark
    Posted February 6, 2005 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing wrong with being average… I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but the Ann Arbor News ran a story a few years ago on the “average” citizen of Washtenaw County. They used me to illustrate the article. There was a giant picture of me, with a caption that said something along the lines of, “Mark Maynard is Average Joe.” I, of course, wasn’t expecting that. I was just doing a favor for someone that I knew at the News who told me that they needed a shot of someone who commuted 15 minutes to work (the average in Washtenaw), for an article that they were doing. The finished article, however, went on to say that I was “average” in many, many ways. I got lots of shit about it from friends and colleagues.

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