Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS SOUTH CAROLINA?....Jack O'Toole writes about some problems his rural in-laws had on their farm a few months ago:

The septic tank was a total loss; got to put in a new one, sir -- the gummint, you know? The electrical problem wasn't really a big deal in and of itself -- but the wiring throughout the house had to be expensively "brought up to code" before they could fix it. And the termite people, God bless 'em, they couldn't even begin to treat his daddy's old place until the existing well, which was too close to the "living area" that no one has lived in for many years, was sealed, and a new one -- one that met all the current regs, of course -- had been sunk.

....Okay, so here's the punch line: As a good Democrat, I know why all this makes sense. We don't want people contaminating the environment with their septic tanks or burning to death in poorly wired houses or guzzling gallon after gallon of termiticide-tainted water. Clearly, those are not good things, and I think the government has an obligation to try to keep them from happening.

That said, Mr. Sonny, as the old man is known, is the one being asked to pay the check for my idea of what constitutes good government here. And while that may just be one of those facts of life that country people like him will eventually have to learn to live with, I would never insult those folks by implying that they're too stupid to know which side their bread is buttered on just because most of them vote for the guy who says he wants to get the government off their backs. Fact is, the government is on their backs, and it's on them in ways that most city dwellers don't even begin to comprehend.

This is in response to Thomas Frank's thesis in What's the Matter with Kansas? that rural folks are getting snookered into voting against their own interests. Dumb rubes!

But I'm not sure if I buy Jack's response. After all, the stuff he describes happens to us city folks too, and we get pretty annoyed as well. Small town residents may be more annoyed by all this than us urbanites, but it's not at all clear to me that it's because government interferes with them in wholly different ways that we can't understand. In fact, it might well be because they're surrounded by a drumbeat of Republican propaganda telling them that they should be annoyed by all this.

Or maybe it's something else entirely. Who knows? At any rate, there's a sudden boomlet in Thomas Frank commentary in the blogosphere. In addition to Jack, Max Sawicky has a full review of his book today, while Matt Yglesias suggests that Frank is wrong to say that Democrats have a working class problem. It's really more of a white guy problem. OxBlog's Josh Chafetz had a predictably unsympathetic review in the NYT Book Review last month, while Matt Stoller weighs in at BOPNews, complaining that the book is "more impressionistic than explanatory." Read 'em all!

Kevin Drum 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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