Saturday, January 15, 2005

Small Thoughts

It's been a few days since I offered up a set of small thoughts -- bits and pieces of ideas that don't really cohere -- on this blog, but they are coursing through my brain this morning, as I read the final chapters of What's The Matter With Kansas. So here goes:

State Of Siege: One of the ideas that Thomas Frank addresses is the "martyr" mentality of the new right. I think this is a quite valid point, and yet I continue to think he misses some of the links in the development of this. In particular, I don't think he sufficiently explicates the effect of those twin pillars of 1960s progressivism: The Civil Rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam war. Those two social movements are, I believe, inextricably linked to the backlash Mr. Frank describes.
Here's just one example of a causal chain I think he missed: Imagine you are a young man from a factory town who goes into the service believing that you will come home to take a solid, good-paying job in the manufacturing industry. You believe also that you will be honored for your service to the country, as you have been taught in school. When you arrive back home a few years later, you see that more and more jobs have been taken by minorities. You are not honored for your service, but seen alternately as a victim and as a tool of an "evil" establishment. The opportunities for you are fewer than they were when you left. You hear the factory owners grumbling about this, and as well about the way the trade unions are bleeding them dry and turning them unprofitable. You see corrupt union officials being indicted and sent to jail. You see blacks setting the inner cities afire on the evening news. During the next few years, you feel a tighter and tighter economic pinch as the economy worsens, especially after the oil crisis of 1974. It's not hard to see how the resentments form. What the progressive movement has never come to grips with, I don't think, is how to unravel this chain of resentments. We hear about "angry white men" but never how to quell their anger.

The Global Economy: One of the issues on which I split with many progressives is globalization. I believe that we have become a global economy, and that the issues of off-shoring that became hot during the last political campaign need to be dealth with in a more understanding and creative way. After all, I believe there is a link between prosperity and stability, and thus I cannot argue that the improvement to the lives of citizens of India through economic globalization could be a bad thing.

Charlatans and Opportunists: I think Thomas Frank makes some valid points about the "elitists" who hypocritically adopt far-right positions in order to win the support of those whose interests they actually oppose. Grover Norquist, who was a college classmate of mine, is an interesting case in point. Back in our college days, Grover was a committed libertarian, and I believe he truly believed in this philosophy. What I don't believe for a minute is his kinship with the religious right, and in particular with the anti-abortion movement that is so antithetical to libertarianism. Nor, by the way, do I believe that George H.W. Bush felt that kinship to the religious right, which he espoused during his 1988 campaign. George H.W. Bush was, I think, the ultimate political opportunist. I think Kitty Kelley exposed that pretty well in her recent book, The Family. George W. Bush is a little bit tougher to figure out. While I think he is a hypocrite -- the evidence points to a foul-mouthed, snide and cynical, overaged "frat boy" convinced of his own superiority but covering himself in piety -- I also believe that some of his religious convictions are sincere, in a somewhat twisted way. Let's say this: I oppose his policies almost to a one, and I probably need to spend more time trying to understand what goes on in his mind.

Sarcasm in Print: I remember being taught in high school that sarcasm is a type of humor that doesn't work in print, because it relies heavily on tone of voice and expression. I didn't know at the time whether I bought it, and I still don't know now. I think one of the weakest aspects of What's The Matter With Kansas? is its sometimes mocking tone. I think the people Thomas Frank is writing about are fascinating, and I want to understand their drivers and motives at face value, not through a lens of snideness.