It’s like the French Revolution, but in reverse

Instead of following my heart tonight and writing about the colossally fucked-up narcissist John Edwards, I’ve decided to share a link to a BBC piece about why we Americans so often vote against our own best interests. (I love watching the relatively level-headed Brits trying to understand the Tea Partification of their former colonies.) The best part of the article is the contribution by Thomas Frank, the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Here’s a highlight:

….Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

“You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining… It’s like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.”

As Mr Frank sees it, authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics. The authentic politicians are the ones who sound like they are speaking from the gut, not the cerebral cortex. Of course, they might be faking it, but it is no joke to say that in contemporary politics, if you can fake sincerity, you have got it made.

And here, according to the author of the article, is the big takeaway message from all of this… “If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them. They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best. There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots. As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.”

So, I guess, with that in mind, the next time we Democrats select a candidate, we should look for some affable, moderately attractive, football-loving, beer-drinking regular guy who can speak vaguely about good and evil, the importance of family, and how we Americans are the best people God ever put upon the face of the earth, without ever proposing legislation to address the serious structural problems that our country is facing, or, for that matter, even letting us know that such issues exist. (And it probably wouldn’t hurt if he was white.) Because, as we know, Americans don’t want to be told such things. Or, here’s another thought. It might take a little longer, but we could instead focus on educating our population so they’re not such a mouth-breathing mass of gibberish-spouting morons, throwing around words like Socialist, Communist and Fascist as though they’re interchangeable, and raving about “death panels.” Seriously, the only way to change the course we’re on is to focus on education. The Republicans are brilliant in that respect. By defunding public schools, and fighting for voucher programs so that kids can attend religious schools, where they can be taught that men rode around on dinosaurs 6,000 years ago, they’re creating a nation of easily exploitable morons. It not only makes the public less able to think critically, though. It also makes the teachers’ union, one of their most significant adversaries, considerably weaker… We need to start thinking strategically too.

I thought that I’d be less depressed if I wrote about this, instead of John Edwards, but I was wrong.

Good night, my invisible friends.

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18 Comments

  1. Robert
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    “So, I guess, with that in mind, the next time we Democrats select a candidate, we should look for some affable, moderately attractive, football-loving, beer-drinking regular guy who can speak vaguely about good and evil, the importance of family, and how we Americans are the best people to ever walk the face of the earth, without ever proposing legislation to address the serious structural problems that our country is facing, or, for that matter, even letting us know that such issues exist.”

    Sounds like you are describing Bill Clinton.

  2. Posted January 31, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    You are so right about education, Mark. An uneducated populace is a great populace, according to a fairly large segment of our country. They love to fund their (often unproven and often not held to the same standards as public) for-profit charter schools and they *really* love their private/Xtian schools. I’ve known people who have taught at charter schools and they told me that they actually had scripts to use in class. It’s brilliant, if you think about it…hand out scripts telling the teacher what to say and if s/he doesn’t say it, you fire them (no union, of course). Meantime, you can script what you want and keep the money rolling in…for the benefit of whoever is in charge of those types of schools.
    Now that college has become cost prohibitive for so many (or else one ends up taking $80k in loans for a $30k/year job prospect), having an uneducated populace is going to be even easier, I fear.

  3. Peter Larson
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    End big government in Ypsilanti!

  4. Brackinald Achery
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Looks like big government in Ypsilanti is doing a pretty good job of ending itself.

  5. Aaron
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Left critic of Obama Paul Street has a long recent article on the Brown victory, and a very different take on what Frank was saying. In a section provocatively titled “Elitist Liberals Still Misusing Thomas Frank to Blame Abandoned Working Class Victims”, Street writes:

    “Liberal Democrats I know still like to cite Thomas Frank’s widely read but commonly misunderstood book on why many working class Americans vote Republican instead of following their supposed natural “pocketbook” interest in supporting the Democrats – What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.[21] Released just before the Republican George W. Bush defeated the multimillionaire Democrat John Forbes Kerry IN 2004, Frank’s famous book has generally been taken to have argued that Democrats lost those “heartland” voters with excessive liberalism on “cultural issues” like abortion, gun rights, religion, gay marriage, and gender roles, letting the GOP to conjure working-class voters away from their real economic interests with such “diversionary” nonmaterial concerns.[22] At the end of his book, however, Frank made it clear that that he blamed the Democratic Party’s shift to the business-friendly right and away from honest discussion of – and opposition to – economic and class inequality for much of whatever success the GOP achieved in winning over white working class voters: ”

    Full article is here:
    http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/23720

  6. Ratso Rizzo
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    There are two types of Americans. Those who can make it on their own and those too proud to admit they can’t. American’s are cowboys. That’s the root of it and all your edumakatin won’t change it. It’ll just change the diction.

  7. Terri
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Idiocracy is real.
    Watch it.
    It’s our future.

  8. Edward
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Would the “French Revolution in reverse” include reattaching people’s heads?

  9. Oliva
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    American’s [sic] are cowboys.

    For presidential stagecraft purposes. Other American myths have a lot more reality to them–the whole individualism thing is self-serving politics/economics and harms us greatly, even just by letting privileged people pretend they got where they are on their own. We have plenty of other traditions that bespeak communalism, cooperation, altruism, but for some (dastardly) reason the individualism myth has staying power–yet is so bogus.

  10. Steph's Dad
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Traditional education takes too long. What we need are adult reeducation camps, right now.

  11. Brackinald Achery
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Might be a lot of people think liberalism is bullshit. They vote Republican because the Republicans tell them what they believe. Sure, the Republicans are by-and-large just blowing smoke up their asses and don’t walk the walk, but it’s telling that the small-government stuff is the right talk — because that’s what the people believe deep down. Anything else strikes them as bullshit, forced down their throats by people who would happily revile and mock them till the cows came home.

  12. Mark H.
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is a brilliant book by a journalist from that once radically left-wing, now right wing state. His title comes from a statement made a century ago, by a conservative journalist wondering why Kansas was so left-wing. (Oklahoma was more left wing at the time….)

    Some talk about wanting to end “big government” but in point of fact the USA has never had govt. of the size or scope that comparable industrial democratic nations have had. Thomas Franks book goes a lot way toward explaining that fact. Thanks for the post, Mark!

  13. Posted February 4, 2010 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Good point, professor H. Thanks.

  14. Ted
    Posted February 5, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    You answered your own question yesterday. They vote against their own best interest because over 1/3 of stark raving mad.

    http://markmaynard.com/?p=7533

  15. BPO
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I wonder when we’ll have the first flash mob to kill a person. And I wonder if it’ll be a banker, or a Democrat. I can easily imagine a Tea Party e-mail going out saying that “Pelosi and family sited without security at…”

  16. Mallie Vanderuig
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post. I’m glad that my son left it up on the screen this morning.

  17. louis vuitton
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    Amen, Brother. For real.

  18. BRT
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I know it was said quite a while ago now, but this is a very insightful (and depressing) quote:

    “If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them. They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best. There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots. As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.”

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