popular culture as the product of liberalism, Frank says, “if you have blinded yourself to the most fundamental of economic realities, namely that the networks and movie studios and advertising agencies and publishing houses and record labels are, in fact, commercial enterprises:’ “Ordinary working-class people are right to hate the culture we live in,” Frank concedes, speaking here of commercial culture. But as he goes on to discuss the longrunning battles in Kansas politics between moderate Republicans and the ultra-conservative wing of the state GOP, the issues that loom large are gun control, homosexuality, teaching evolution in public schools, and abortion. Especially abortion. The conservative Christian voice in Kansas politics has been amplified over the years by energetic organizing and persistent protest. As in Texas, there has been a war for control over the local Republican Partyand the kind of moderate Republicanism once personified by Kansas Senators Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole has been losing out. Frank spends time with a few anti-abortion activists and other assorted Republicans and writes with insight about the role abortion has played in state politics. In 1991, the national Operation Rescue group declared a Summer of Mercy and concentrated on abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas. The protests shut the clinics down for a week, a victory celebrated with a rally in a Wichita football stadium. Thousands of new activists were brought into Kansas Republican politics. Frank portrays the uprising as the key event that turned a splinter group into “the state’s dominant political faction,” that reduced Kansas Democrats to third-party status, and “that would wreck what remained of the state’s progressive legacy.” It’s not that anti-abortion activists were able to make significant changes in state laws. For the purposes of the wider conservative agenda they didn’t need to. As Frank argues, “Its power as an anti-intellectual rallying point is one of the things that makes the anti-abortion crusade so central to contemporary conservatism:’ The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling exists in the mind of the right as perfectly symbolic of what has gone wrong in America. “The decision superseded laws in nearly every state,” Frank notes. “It unilaterally quashed the then-nascent debate over abortion, settling the issue by fiat and from the top down. And it cemented forever a stereotype of liberalism as , a doCtrine of a tiny clique of experts, an unholy combination of doctors and lawyers, of bureaucrats and professionals, securing their ‘reforms’ by judicial command rather than by democratic consensus:’ That’s as close as Frank comes to portraying Kansans who bring moral crusades into politics as anything but loony, though. From there he moves to an account of the Kansas Board of Education’s 1999 decision to eliminate references to evolution from state science standards. And then he pays a visit to a Catholic schismatic who lives with his mother in a ramshackle farmhouse and who believes himself to be the rightfully elected Pope. o what is Frank up to here? He’s written a wonderfully readable book, beautifully conceived, engaging throughout because he writes in a passionate voice. He brings a deep sense of history and mixes in a little of his own story of growing up in a Kansas City suburb and of his latter-day attempts to make sense of the place. But what, in the end, is he able to tell us about what’s gone wrong with Kansas, and with America? Why are so many people getting their fundamental economic interests wrong? Frank does not pretend to practice sociology here, nor does he attempt a wide-angle view , of public opinion. He chooses his fieldwork partly to demonstrate small towns and farm communities are dying and partly to show how many weird people get involved in conservative politics. His answer to that “preeminent question of our times” seems to be that a lot of people are deluded. Deranged. Played for suckers. This doesn’t quite do as political analysis. But that’s why God created E.J. Dionne. For reasonable, cogent explanation of what’s really happening in American politics, there isn’t a better writer at work today. Dionne’s 1991 book, Why Americans Hate Politics, is surely the best account available of how continued on page 40 xf*CN. S J ir AMERICAx ,re pOLITIOS HOW CONSERVATIVES WON THE HEART OF AMERICA THOMAS FRANK 8/13/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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