Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book, What’s The Matter With Kansas? sees Republicans as the evil party of the rich, Democrats as the saintly party of working folks, and it infuriates him that so many working folks nevertheless vote Republican. They are, he says, duped by “culture” issues like abortion, prayer, and guns, as Trojan horses for Republican economic policies ruinous for them.
Frank mocks the red state/blue state stereotypes of effete latte-drinking coastal liberals versus down-to-earth Middle Americans. Yet his book reeks venomous contempt for Middle Americans – at least those who vote Republican – whom he calls “deranged” and “lunatics.”
It does flummox guys like him when people vote what they see as their values, rather than (what guys like him see as) their economic self-interest. In other words, they’re insufficiently materialistic. And these same pundits in other contexts denounce “money-worshipping” American materialism. How very odd.
In Frank’s view, all Republicans want is to fatten corporate profits and enrich plutocrats at the expense of ordinary Americans – whom they care nothing for, or actually thirst to impoverish, for some unexplained malign reason.
There’s something here I don’t get. Where is all this corporate profit supposed to come from? If ordinary folks are being driven to the wall, by these economic policies, then who’s going to buy all the products that corporations produce and sell to get those profits?
Frank’s ultimate villain is “unrestrained” capitalism, an evil criminal system, a “bad” economic idea that Republicans supposedly insanely worship. But that’s a straw man. We don’t have unrestrained capitalism, and no one advocates it. Businesses are subject to laws just like individuals are. What we do have is people supplying the needs and wants of others, motivated by, and compensated by, earnings. Missing from Frank’s book is any hint of an alternative economic system capable of giving us the “good jobs at good wages” whose supposed disappearance he bemoans. His sort seem to think we can somehow have good jobs at good wages without good businesses earning good profits. Talk about voodoo economics!
That’s one fundamental reason why it’s debatable that Democratic economic policies truly do favor working people. For working people to prosper, you need an economy full of vibrant businesses that can successfully compete in the global economy. Democrats never seem to embrace this reality. Further, through most of U.S. history, Democrats – especially those old-time prairie radicals whom Frank lionizes – understood perfectly how protectionism favors business interests over those of working people, consumers, and the nation as a whole. Somewhere along the line, Democrats lost their bearings on this issue. And so they pander to economic ignorance by condemning outsourcing, which is actually a way for U.S. businesses to maintain global competitiveness — without which they cannot employ any Americans.
I read this book, with its bleak portrayal of supposed middle class destruction, while on a cruise – no “budget” cruise, mind you – but I saw no one who looked like a fatcat. No, these passengers were the most ordinary of Americans (including much ethnic diversity) – obviously able to afford a luxury vacation which, not so long ago, would have been only for the richest few. That mass affluence is what capitalism has actually given us. And I noted too the thousand ways in which the cruise line (Celebrity) strove to give its customers a great time, so they’ll go home and talk it up to their friends. That’s how this competitive corporation was garnering its profits. That is capitalism, Adam Smith style. (I wonder if you’d get nightly chocolates on your pillow on a government-run cruise line.)
I’m fed up with the polemical style epitomized by Frank’s book, demonizing opposing viewpoints and imputing evil motives. It’s disgusting and it’s poisoning our politics. I threw the book away after subjecting myself to only half.