Monday, September 13, 2004

What's the matter with Kansas is the best book on politics I've read this year. I reviewed it on Epinions.

Since this isn't a mystery novel, I'll give away the ending, although it means a lot less without the supporting evidence and information that make up most of this book. The poorest people in the heartland are angry at what is happening to them in today's economy - the same anger that happened early in the century when communism was still popular in Kansas in some places. Somehow the anger has become refocused, so the more downtrodden they feel, the more they try to assert their own authenticity and dignity by supporting conservative religious and even economic causes. They cannot be more successful than the rich, but they can be more religious and authentic. There is a real rivalry between rich and poor - but somehow the poor express it by trying to be more conservative than the rich. Many of the rich are uncomfortable with the strident fundamentalism, but in the end reasonably content to benefit from their economic policies. Sometimes he comes close to saying the rich are manipulating the poor, more often implying that many understand and perpetuate the system but did not set it up.

I love this book, but the one thing the author doesn't do is offer a prescription. I have a starting point for the discussion, although I'm not an expert on the heartlands. I think we need to think about how antipoverty programs can be changed to make sure they help rural regions. Although the heartlands do get more tax money than they pay out, this might be the difference between some districts considering these 'liberal' programs and considering them their programs. Even to have the Democratic party talking about these areas might help.

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