Books I’ve Read: What’s The Matter With Kansas?

City's downtown area photographed south to north on the corner of U.S. 127 and U.S. 35.

City’s downtown area photographed south to north on the corner of U.S. 127 and U.S. 35.

What struck me the most about Thomas Frank’s New York Times bestseller What’s the Matter With Kansas? were the descriptions of the downtown areas of the various Kansas towns he describes.

These towns bear a striking resemblance to the downtowns in the city and villages of Preble County, Ohio. Sparsely-filled storefronts, abandoned and bank-owned buildings and an abundance of second-hand stores and ‘antique’ shops. Frank could have just as easily written about my hometown.

Despite having been written almost a decade ago, the book is still a relevant look at the political machinery that runs the United States. Frank makes no bones about where he stands on the issue of liberal vs. conservative, but despite his well-written and well-argued prose, I doubt many minds have been changed by reading the book, because politics, like religion, tend to be about an emotional connection and not so much an intellectual one.

But Frank dives in deep anyway trying to figure out how people get duped into voting against their economic interests.

Frank points out how the platform issues of the Republican party — anti-abortion and anti-gun control — and the always present, but vague and ill-defined moral decline successfully captivates and motivates a segment of society who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep people in power who holds those same beliefs. This same segment, he argues, fails to examine the policies behind these agenda-makers and how it is affecting middle America.

One moment in history he discusses that resonated with me as an Ohioan was the 2004 presidential election when a proposed gay marriage amendment was placed on the ballot in Ohio (and other states). As an Ohioan, it seemed to me that the amendment had as much of a chance passing as one legalizing prostitution — but did it ever bring out the vote. People concerned with the moral decline of the state came out in droves to ensure the amendment failed — while also casting their vote for George W. Bush, the ’68 Yale graduate who avoided the Vietnam draft and ‘man of the people’ whose moral compass they agreed with.

Franks interviews and quotes a wide-range of interesting characters in the book — from the self-proclaimed pope to the female politician who believed it was a step back for American society when women were granted the right to vote. The book is worth reading for these characters alone.

But since, Franks’ writing style is confrontational and unflinching if may be offensive to conservative individuals comfortable with their beliefs. If, however, you wonder how ‘moral’ leaders leave your towns gutted and reduce your economic opportunities, then its worth the read.

Rated 5 out of 5. Extremely well-written and an insightful look at the uniquely American political system.

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