Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 95 E300
Location: Inside my head
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Quoted: 392 Post(s)
We had so much fun and learned so much by our thoughtful analyses of Neocon-ism that I thought, "here's a book review that might provide an additional opportunity for reflection."
That speck in your brother's eye
By J. PEDER ZANE, Staff Writer
The only thing more medieval than the concept of absolute truth is some groups' claim that they alone possess it. Yet, not only is such backward, fundamentalist thinking thriving in 21st-century America, it dominates one of our major political parties.
Concerned citizens wonder: What's the matter with Democrats?
To answer that question, read Thomas Frank, who articulates the self-righteous anger and self-satisfied worldview that infects liberal thought.
Start with the article "What's the Matter With Liberals?" in the May 12 issue of the New York Review of Books. Move on to his elaboration of these themes in his mega-best-selling book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" which is now available in paperback (Owl Books, $14, 322 pages).
His article's headline suggests a fearless critique, enumerating the missteps that have cost Democrats all three branches of government in the last decade, offering a platform of principled positions that will enable them to rise again. Instead, his attacks are aimed at Republicans. The cozy, oh so flattering message to liberals is clear: What's the matter with us? Not much.
Frank's lack of specific proposals underscores a common critique: that Democrats on the national level don't stand for anything. Yet he also reminds us that Democrats do stand for something quite far-reaching: the certitude of their own virtue in a wicked world.
Like fire-and-brimstone preachers of old, they are less interested in leading than in warning us about those who might lead us astray. It is a moral vision defined by the negative: We are good because our opponents are evil; believe us because you cannot trust them; we are right because they are wrong.
This mind-set leaves Frank with a gnarly problem: Why have so many forsaken reason to worship false gods? More prosaically, he poses a question that has become a key Democrat talking point: Why do so many working-class Americans vote against their own economic self-interest and support Republicans?
Frank, of course, has little interest in conclusively demonstrating that Republican policies have hurt average Americans -- or why, if this is so, people are moving from blue states to red states. He doesn't attempt to show that such voters would be better off under Democrats. For him it is an article of faith.
He answers his question like a preacher who does not want to antagonize possible converts: You sin (i.e., vote Republican) because you have been bamboozled by wily conservatives, who goad you into believing that liberal social platforms, not harsh GOP economic policies, are the fount of your troubles.
"Strip today's Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans," Frank writes. "Push them off their land, and next thing you know they're protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for CEOs, and there's a good chance they'll join the John Birch Society."
The contemptuousness of Frank's analysis does not make it wrong. Perhaps rafts of his fellow Kansans -- and working-class Americans across the country -- are gullible pawns, so out of touch with the reality of their own lives that voting has become, for them, a form of self-immolation.
Then again, maybe they do not believe they are as impoverished as Frank maintains. Maybe experience has taught them that the government can't solve all their problems. Or maybe their moral beliefs make cultural issues such as abortion and school prayer paramount in their minds.
Rather than interview a representative sample of these folks to understand their thinking, Frank arrogantly concludes that they suffer "derangement." What else but a mental condition -- and a healthy dollop of ignorance -- could prevent them from seeing Frank's light?
This lack of curiosity and empathy is particularly troubling. If we no longer see the point of understanding one another, how can we bridge the gaps between us?
The final characters in Frank's morality play are phonies leading these "deluded" fools. These cynical manipulators pretend to "wage cultural battles where victory is impossible" -- such as outlawing abortion and restoring school prayer -- to swipe the votes of rubes they need to win elections and line their own pockets.
For Frank -- and other influential liberal writers such as Frank Rich and Paul Krugman of The New York Times -- politics hinges less on measurable results than emotional perception. Liberalism has not declined because people prefer alternatives, they maintain, but because Republicans have seized control of reality itself -- twisting truth to demonize their saintly opponents and cover their horns and tails with a Wal-Mart halo.
Thus, liberals do not proclaim that President Bush is wrong or misguided but that he's a liar and a con artist -- throughout his book, Frank refers to conservatives as the "Cons." The suggestion is that Bush and his allies do not believe what they say, that deep down they know the liberals are right. Driven by dark and evil forces, they deceive the people for their party's selfish ends.
"What's the Matter With Kansas?" is a lazy, self-satisfied work. It is also an important one. It shows how deep an intellectual hole liberals have dug for themselves. Its success suggests how hard it will be for them to crawl out from it.
Book review editor J. Peder Zane can be reached at 829-4773 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.