“Why the poor vote on the right”
A very clear, short summary of Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? A better title, yes?
In 2021 Tom also made an audiobook version of his book.
By Jean Birnbaum (2008) in Le Monde (France)
Full Text: https://www.lemonde.fr/elections-americaines/article/2008/01/31/pourquoi-les-pauvres-votent-a-droite-la-rebellion-conservatrice_1005649_829254.html — Sloightly reduced and revised for clarity.
Almost everywhere in the West, the left is seized with perplexity. The Left laments, “I am the heir to the workers’ movement, I embody the fight for social emancipation, and yet the people abandon me.” The Left asks, “Why the devil do the poor people support the Right, the party of the dominant? How to explain how the damned of the Earth cast their votes to those aligned with our corporate masters?”
The question has a renewed topicality. In order to answer it, one can opt for the theoretical path: resume the study of “voluntary servitude” and “alienation”. Thomas Frank has chosen another path: that of political reporting, between field research and sarcastic strolling. His field of investigation was found. The journalist grew up in the State of Kansas, where many revolts were born in the past, and where George W. Bush is today (2008) the idol of the most deprived.
Here, the underprivileged masses demand the end of inheritance rights and the privatization of hospitals. Here, the anger targets not the economic elites, but the “liberal” left, necessarily “cosmopolitan” and “arrogant”: Look at these so-called democrats who hate deep America; look at these parasitic trade unionists, who never miss an opportunity to betray the country; see these “know-it-all” academics, unable to wield a weapon or install electricity in their homes, yet who are experts in chic feminism and Frenchie cheese …
Thomas Frank walks alone on the lands of his childhood. His gaze is of an ingenuous leftist, and his book, Why the poor vote on the right , does not claim to be scientific. Written with an alert pen, the text can be devoured with passion, a smile on your lips, a bit like watching a documentary by Michael Moore, except Frank never gives in to narcissistic demagoguery.
So Frank is going to listen to young preacher Phill Kline, who electrifies halls by presenting himself as both a warrior of God and the candidate for “Republican barbecues and beer packs” . He meets former soldier Mark Gietzen, the leader of a group of Christian singles, who spent years door-to-door until his town swung to the right. Frank still takes a liking to a certain Tim Golba. A line worker in a bottling plant. This enthusiast uses his free time to lead committees hostile to “moral decadence” , to supporters of Darwin and other “socialites.” “Tim works day and night so others can enjoy their capital without ever having to work,” notes Frank.
Frank finally falls under the spell of a granny named Kay O’Connor, a senator in the state parliament, who considers the vote for women as a symptom of American decline. She is far from being well off, she even had to mortgage her house, yet “her thoughts nevertheless seem to have been taken straight from the political credo of the billionaires of the nineteenth century,” remarks the author.
For a man of the Left, this is perplexing to understand. By way of explanation, Frank describes the stroke of genius of the conservatives. On one hand, they reappropriated a theme largely abandoned by the Democrats, that of the just fury of the “masses” against the elites. On the other, they substituted “culture war” for “class struggle.” The Right shouts, “Family values!” What divides Americans is not complex and disgusting as economy or class are. Rather it’s sexual preference, abortion and religion!”
The genius of the Right’s strategy is it marginalizes themes specific to the left (wages, social protection …) and lionizes cultural issues of abortion, religion, and “ways of life.”
Frank also notes the victim position adopted by these republican ideologues, millions of rich and Harvard graduates, who take “rural accents, telling anyone who wants to hear about their youth spent in the shacks and screaming at the over-educated elites “ … [See also Frank’s Pity the Poor Billionaire].
Once in power, those the poor elect are careful not to keep their “moral” promises, insists Thomas Frank. Their real allegiance is to the donors who paid for their campaign, not the voters. Populists the poor elects inevitably align with the neoliberal program of the rich. …
The DNC Democratic Party has lost the support of wage earners, unions and blacks. Even tho in the 1930s, the Democrats had working class voters in the palm of its hand, by making the lives of working people better; now, it is unable to capture the anger of the working class population. Into this vacuum steps populist panderers on the Right.
Do the DNC Democrats thank Frank for explaining this? No, they castigate him, are ashamed of him, for telling these truths.
The above reviews “Why do the poor vote on the right. How the conservatives won the heart of the United States. (What’s the matter with Kansas?)” By Thomas Frank. Translated from English by Frédéric Cotton, Agone, “Contre-feu”, 368 p .., 24 €.