I’ve got no expectations one way or another on Thomas Frank’s new book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? It may be a rather vulgar Marxist oversimplification, or it may shed some light on the cultural and political transformation of Kansas, and the midwest generally in the last 30 years. Josh Chavetz’ hatchet job doesn’t really offer much by way of illumination (although it is a bit refreshing to see a NYTbook review author actually take a strong position). Ezra Klein’s being rather raked over the coals for his one-word praise of this review (here), and I’ve commented over there, so I’ll just reiterate two important points that have emerged from that discussion.
1)Democrats should take pious lectures from conservatives on how we’ve abandoned the “heartland values” that appeal to culturally conservative midwestern voters with a rather sizable grain of salt.
2)When the conservative giving the lecture is actually an Oxford-trained classical liberal with no more patience for those sort of “heartland values” than we have, that grain of salt should be extra-extra large.
There are exceptions to 1–as Scott argued a while back, abandoning gun control (which as far as I know may have already been more or less done by Democrats running from most of these states), as a priority and emphasizing the way in which economic inequality hurts families and so on are ways we can make inroads into this population. But any appeals to the core issues at the heart of “heartland values” is a bad idea because:
1) Democrats will seem insincere, and even if they don’t the media will portray them that way. (They like their Democrats to be namby-pamby over-intellectuals, and they’ll work hard to keep it that way!)
2) Appealing to those values means abandoning a significant part of our very real and not insubstantial base.
3) Appealing to those values places us on the wrong side of history.
I suspect Chavetz understands this perfectly well.