I spent most of my day today whipping through Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? for the third or fourth time. The last time that I assigned it to a class, I vowed that I would never do so again because it’s just too political. However, Frank seems to be the counterpoint to a lot of the new literature on the conservative moment, so he fits well in my graduate class where we’re reading a bunch of these books. Another mitigating factor is that Frank’s thesis, that conservatism has sucked economics out of social class, now seems like a relic from another era now that the Great Recession has made economic concerns impossible to avoid.
In other ways though, none of which I picked up on when I last read the book three or four years ago, Frank’s work is more timely than ever. Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle obviously would have been very much at home fighting the moderate Republicans who had controlled that state’s Republican politics during the 1990s. Unlike those two examples though, a lot of far right candidates have been elected in Kansas and elsewhere.
More importantly, Frank doesn’t pull any punches when considering the role of the Democrats in the rise of the new cultural conservatism. This passage near the end of the book (pp. 248-49) actually gave me chills:
“Maybe Kansas, instead of being a laughingstock, is actually in the vanguard. Maybe what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading. Maybe someday soon the political choices of Americans everywhere will be whittled down to the two factions of the Republican Party. Whether the Mods still call themselves “republicans” then or have switched to being Democrats won’t really matter: both groups will be what Kansas call “fiscal conservatives,” which is to say “friends of business,” and issues that motivated our parents’ Democratic Party will be permanently off the table.”
The same day I read that had to be the same day I saw the headline, “Obama Budget To Focus On Spending Cuts.” Another subset of this same story from my primary area of interest that I saw today was “Graduate Students May Face Higher Debt Under Obama’s Budget Plan.” How so?:
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew said that interest on graduate school loans will begin building up while students are still in school. Currently, interest does not begin compiling until after students graduate.
I happen to think there really should be fewer graduate students in the world. However, I’d like to think that can be done by convincing them not to enroll in the first place rather than by making graduate school debt more expensive. And, of course, a change in student loan provisions like this will affect lots of programs outside the humanities that aren’t facing a crisis of too many graduates chasing too few positions that pay a living wage.
Would Hillary Clinton as President have stemmed the drift of the Democratic Party into becoming the second Republican Party? I don’t know, but heck it would have to have been better than this.
The thing that kills me though is that despite everything President Obama has done to destroy the ideals of the Democratic Party that Franklin Roosevelt created, I know I’m going to end up voting for him again anyways because he deserves some credit for health care reform and because his opponent in 2012 is almost guaranteed to be certifiably insane.
Where is William Jennings Bryan when you really need him?