World’s foremost critic of Kansas still blames right for left’s policy failures

World’s foremost critic of Kansas still blames right for left’s policy failures

As I put it, in one of my favorite passages in the book,

“Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: To the right, to the right, farther to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

We see this paradoxical law of political gravity everywhere now, of course. The financial crisis of 2008, brought on by deregulated banks, triggered a movement whose holiest cause is deregulation and which, in turn, secured control of the House of Representatives for a ferociously market-minded Republican majority. (For the record, the Tea Party movement and the Kansas conservatives I studied 10 years ago also differ in certain important respects.)

When you looked at Kansas political battles up close, the beginnings of an explanation became clear immediately: It was about class. Again and again, the category that split the two sides — in this case, moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans — was social status. The mods triumphed in the rich suburbs; they were lawyers, newspaper publishers, professionals. The cons won in the blue-collar suburbs; they tended to hold humbler jobs. One conservative leader I interviewed was a line worker at a soda-pop bottling plant. …

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These days, the big thinkers of the Democratic Party have concluded that they can safely ignore the things I described. They’ve got a new bunch of voters these days — the famous “coalition of the ascendant,” made up of professionals, minorities and “millennials” — and it pleases them to imagine that with this unstoppable army at their back they will win elections from here to eternity. There is no need to resolve the dilemmas I outlined in “Kansas,” no need to win back working-class voters or solve wrenching economic problems. In fact, there is no need to lift a finger to do much of anything, since vast, impersonal demographic forces are what rescued them from the trap I identified. They now have the luxury of saying, as Paul Krugman did on the day after the 2012 election, “Who cares what’s the matter with Kansas?”

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