With too many fooled and abused, plutocracy rules and ignorance subits in the heartland of America.
By William Marvel
Since January I have been composing a column that I intended to call “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” I stole the title from William Allen White’s 1896 editorial in the Emporia, Kansas, Gazette, in which he ridiculed the Populist Party effort to gain governmental concessions for the working class. Like most conservative Republicans since that time, White embraced the myth of trickle-down economics and characterized any legislation designed to benefit the common man as communist heresy. His simplistic satire helped to convince down-and-out Kansas farmers to vote against their only real hope for a serious political voice, just as similar demagoguery has kept plain folks voting against their own interests to this day.
While I pondered my column, a Kansas native by the name of Thomas Frank was turning the same idea into a book, and sure enough he called it What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. It came out this summer, and I may never have enough free time to read it, but a review suggests that I already share considerable concurrence with the author.
My own inspiration came last December, while driving out to my wife’s childhood home in Salina, Kansas, for a holiday visit with her family. The long, flat interstates of central Kansas bisect great seas of conquered prairie with but few farmhouses in sight. Most people seem to have sold out (or lost out) to agribusiness that thrives on the same economic policies that drove the family farmers into bankruptcy. The older of those former farmers now idle about town, while the younger ones have gone to Wichita, or farther, to beg work at another preferentially taxed corporation. The most coveted work in Salina is a job in the pizza factory, and the best neighborhoods in town have turned downright seedy. Even the bankers in Topeka look as doleful as basset hounds.
Since renouncing their populist saviors in 1896, Kansans have anesthetized themselves against the resulting blight by relentless religious indoctrination. In their curious world Jesus loves everyone except homosexuals and Democrats. Anything that happens is “God’s will,” thus logically absolving everyone from responsibility for their actions, yet somehow there remains a concept called sin, which requires the free will that no one is supposed to own. They believe that their god will protect them against any danger, yet they tremble in constant fear of the ungodly. In a decision that threw their state back a full century in intellectual development, creationist Kansas legislators banned the teaching of evolution a couple of years ago.
The preoccupation with religion is simply astounding. Oily, unemployed preachers slink about, looking for gigs among the myriad little congregations. Nieces and nephews constantly lobby for missionary money until rebuffed with abrupt finality, recoiling in horror to learn that their aunt has not only married a nonbeliever, but that she herself long ago rejected the fundamentalist dogma of the plains. It is almost as though apostasy equaled death, and those who visit the lost daughter now mourn as though at a gravesite.
The landscape itself reflects the endemic piety. Homemade billboards loom over the creeping vegetation in abandoned pastures, advertising obscure biblical passages. Electronic signs plead for the public to pray--perhaps for some of that wealth to trickle down from the corporate interests Kansans have been supporting for so long. Western Missouri is dotted with triple-X-rated video rental stores and “gentlemen’s clubs” offering live dancing, but those uncomfortable amenities disappear after the Kansas border. That was acceptable enough, but the bathroom doors of interstate rest areas disappear as well, at least on the men’s side: to discourage their potential use as gay trysting spots, a devout Department of Transportation has turned all of its rest areas into putrid peep shows.
As Thomas Frank apparently argues in his new book, the problem with Kansas seems to be the same as it is with the rest of the country. By means of catchy rhetoric, inventive mythology, and ludicrous logic, a self-interested plutocracy has played an unsophisticated majority against itself, persuading the most numerous class to approve its own defeat and then submit obediently. The Republican Party has long held power with this incongruous coalition of wealth and ignorance, and Kansas may stand as the best illustration of the dominance of ignorance in that alliance: I never saw a rich man while I was there.
William Marvel is a freelance writer in New Hampshire and served in the U.S. Army from 1968-1971. His many books include the award-winning Andersonville: The Last Depot and Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. You can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Monday August 2, 2004
Oh, yeah. I know who he is. Marvel Comics, right?
"I never saw a rich man while I was there."
A Kansas farmer my have different definition of "rich".
I can only imagine what the farmer would say after a visit to N.Y.C.
"I never saw a "rich" man while I was there."
Love thy neighbor and no running during tornado drills
Sorry lost interest, article too long.
Considering your in Kansas thats actually funny.
This topic was brought up in another thread and I am re-posting my reply here...
I live right next to Kansas, and have both sides of my family in Kansas. I have no idea what county you are talking about or what "poorest" means, (in terms of household income, wages, unemployment, etc.) but it is my guess that this county not only holds moral standards, but also genuinely doesn't care that their lifestyle doesn't involve expensive cars, cable TV or internet. I have met a great many people in Kansas who like their rural, simplistic lifestyle and could care less about anybody else who tries to tell them that the rest of the country has leaps and bounds on them in terms of luxuries and technology.
Further, to suggest that their Republican voting record has anything to do with their "poorest" designation is totally obsurd. Oklahoma City, an overwhelmingly DEMOCRATIC region, had 40% of the African American populus living in the city limits at or below poverty level 30 years ago. Today, after $4.3 TRILLION (That's Trillion with a T) spent on welfare and social programs, 40% of the African American populus in Oklahoma City is STILL at or below poverty! The Democratic party, the party that claims they will be the ones to help the minorities and the poor, have been unable to help those they swear up and down they protect by even one percentage point.
So don't try to claim that these people in Kansas are shooting themselves in the foot when the other party can't change anything, either.
"We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle
good post gschra. While I no longer live there, i was born and raised in Kansas. I didn't live in a rural county, I lived in Manhattan, pop. 30,000 or so. It was a great place to grow up. Not big enough for big city problems and yet large enough with Kansas State University to get a good education and experience diverse cultures. I've since moved to several different states and met a lot of people. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can never have be happy with who they are or what they have. Their self worth depends on where they live or what they drive. It makes me homesick sometimes. There will always be the haves and have nots, but it really depends on the person and what they want to achieve. In the end, who cares? I'd rather be poor and happy, than rich and forever trying to grab more than you. If that's your thang, go for it. You can look down your nose at me.
I'll be the one smiling!
Love thy neighbor and no running during tornado drills
I didn't read the book ,but I heard the author on the radio the other day.
and I don't think he was picking on kansas,per se.
i took it to be more of just a name that really represents the way "values"are cheapened and used by politicians.(I say republican AND democratic politicians are just as bad as each other)
and kansas and the bible belt and whatever other belt you want (the red states)have been fooled into thinking that there representatives feel like they do.
a politician may say he's against abortion,but the babysitter he's bonking on the side had better get one if anything happens.
and the blue states,well what ever.
but the politicians and preachers have been co-opted by money,and what she wants. and the people think that it is their duty to uphold that tradition.in spite of reason.
and that article sounds right on on that account to me
leave out any dig against kansas,per se,because we all know there are good people everywhere.and some cultures have inherent weaknesses.