Saturday, April 23, 2005

What's the matter with America, by Thomas Frank

Wandering recently around Brunswick Library I picked up Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With America. I’d seen it sitting on the shelves of Reading months ago and thought it might be an interesting read.

In essence, it asks the question, why are the Republicans so popular amongst the poor and disenfranchised, when it is the Republican Party selling them down the river? For example, look at Bush’s recent announcement that he’s going to make cuts to social security, due, I believe, in large part to his war on terror (the annual US military budget is some 500 billion dollars). Why do poor people vote against their best interests?

To explain this we are taken deep into America’s so-called culture wars, a pretty weird and scary place. Australia has its own culture wars of course, but nothing as crazy and outlandish as America’s. What glues it all together is a desire to see a return to ‘values’. Why do these uber conservatives think America is going down the tubes? Homosexuals. Abortion. Teaching evolution in school. In short, anything remotely connected to the hated ‘liberal’ agenda. This is taken to ridiculous levels.

I recall watching the ABC’s Lateline one night and they showed an ad that demonised Howard Dean, the Vermont Governor who was running to be elected Democrats candidate for President. It featured a couple, aged in their late fifties, slagging off everything that the detested liberals enjoyed, right down to Sushi! This is totalitarian thinking. What are you allowed to eat in America without being demonised?

So, the super conservatives create this image of ‘values’, of what real Americans do. The picture they present is of this simple, salt-of-the-earth type, with their uncluttered tastes. You know, almost a noble savage. They love beer, guns and the Bible.

What they never mention though, is the economy. The fact that the super conservatives who use this language of the simple, honest and true American, despising the decadent sophistication of the liberal, are plunging them into more and more economic insecurity, is never discussed.

It’s the idea of values that spooks these Republican voters. They believe the US is really and truly going to hell in a hand basket.

As I said before, this is a pretty scary book. That people actually believe this stuff – believe that George. W Bush is this great man, believe in his great piety, believe in his wholesome, ‘down home’ style. The same man who dodged Vietnam and floundered around from pampered job to failed business exploits to finally, politics. They believe HE is their saviour.

In Australia we have John Howard, but at least a lot of his supporters, at the ballot box I mean, retain a degree of cynicism about him. They know he lies to them, but have faith in his abilities as an economic manager.

As for the culture wars, there’s always David Flint, monarchist. His book, Twilight of the Elites, I should perhaps give a whirl, for a laugh if nothing else.

This is a well written and substantial book. Interesting to note, Thomas Frank is a former Republican. How many other conservative discontents have I read books by recently? Richard Clark, David Brock, Scott Ritter and Chalmers Johnson spring to mind.

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