Last night at Border’s I saw an interesting book I probably should have bought, rather than pushing it to the after-the-move list: What’s the Matter with Kansas?”
In asking �what�s the matter with Kansas?� � how a place famous for its radicalism became one of the most conservative states in the union � Thomas Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of us vote against our economic interests? Where�s the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? The questions are urgent as well as provocative. Frank answers them by examining pop conservatism � the bestsellers, the radio talk shows, the vicious political combat � and showing how our long culture wars have left us with an electorate far more concerned with their leaders� �values� and down-home qualities than with their stands on hard questions of policy.
A brilliant analysis � and funny to boot � What�s the Matter with Kansas? presents a critical assessment of who we are, while telling a remarkable story of how a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs came to convince a nation that they spoke on behalf of the People.
It’s the last part that got me, especially when I read some excerpts from the Enron tapes, made by some of the company’s energy traders. On behalf of the People, ahem:
During California’s rolling blackouts, when streets were lit only by head lights and families were trapped in elevators, Enron Energy traders laughed, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.
One trader is heard on tapes obtained by CBS News saying, “Just cut ’em off. They’re so f—-d. They should just bring back f—–g horses and carriages, f—–g lamps, f—–g kerosene lamps.”
And when describing his reaction when a business owner complained about high energy prices, another trader is heard on tape saying, “I just looked at him. I said, ‘Move.’ (laughter) The guy was like horrified. I go, ‘Look, don’t take it the wrong way. Move. It isn’t getting fixed anytime soon.”
Keep in mind, one of the good guys in the Enron scandal? The whistle-blower? She was working on a project to give Enron control of virtually all the potable water up for grabs in the world. Water. Imagine what jokes they could make about that.
alex said on June 3, 2004 at 3:12 pm
What’s wrong with Kansas is the same thing that’s wrong with Indiana and everywhere else. We live in the Misinformation Age, the era of politics gone showbiz.
I’d say this trend really took hold beginning in the 1980s, when televangelists like Pat Robertson began presenting programming with the trappings of legitimate news�sets designed to look like a newscast and talk shows with shelves full of books as a backdrop to suggest authority.
Today there’s so much out there that’s ad hominem and partisan posing as legitimate information that a good many people don’t have any idea what’s real. The glut of crap punditry also continues to breathe life into the myth of the liberal media. Indeed, after a steady diet of conservative programming, pretty much anything else that’s fair and balanced looks wishy-washy.
And if you think intelligent people don’t fall for it, I’m still aghast that my mother’s a sucker for Fox News�the most insidious of them all.
Whitcomb said on June 3, 2004 at 3:33 pm
The Enron story was downplayed in our paper, but the AP account contained this charming exchange:
“In one transcript a trader asks about ‘all the money you guys stole form those poor grandmothers of California.’
“The Enron trader responds, ‘Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she’s the one who couldn’t figure out how to (expletive) vote on the butterfly ballot.
“‘Yeah, now she wants her (expletive) money back for all the power you’ve charged right up–jammed right up her (expletive) for (expletive) 250 dollars a megawatt hour,’ the first trader says.”
Is there a better example of utter contempt for the average American?
Should John Kerry try to propose any business reforms, he will be immediately denounced by the GOP, and by many in the press, for waging “class warfare.” Under the rules of the American game, it’s only class warfare if you dare criticize business, or raise the taxes of the most affluent.
Business, under these rules, is incapable of waging “class warfare” because we are all supposed to aspire to be successful people like Enron traders. To say otherwise is not only un-American but promotes envy among the unwashed masses of hard-working, God-fearing American capitalists.
Bob said on June 3, 2004 at 4:41 pm
There’s a commonality with Whitcomb’s comment here and a couple of comments about public transit, related to Tuesday, June 1’s blog (Hmpf).
To self-professed middle-class midwesterners, public transportation is a safety net for people who don’t have a car because they’re too damn lazy, shiftless and stupid to go out and get a job and earn a decent living. Mention any mode of transportation other than driving one-person-one-car in the presence of all these Right Republicans, and they’ll look at you as if you suggested saving money by eating at the soup kitchen and living at the Mission.
Class warfare! Where do I enlist?
Nance said on June 3, 2004 at 5:02 pm
Whitcomb is right. It is now considered un-American, and class warfare, to expect corporations to show anything close to the “values” we demand in public officials. One reason I think we’ll someday see a fast-food corporation successfully sued for someone’s obesity — probably a class’s obesity — is that a jury will finally have it up to here with, “Well, no one FORCED you to eat all that food.” No, no one did. But did starving customers clamor at McDonald’s to offer a 3,000-calorie lunch for $3? Or did it maybe have something to do with plummeting commodity prices and the economies of scale?
(Not that I think McDonald’s is responsible for all the fat people in this country. But you can’t deny fast food plays one role in a large cast.)
True, businesses exist to make money. But businesses are run by people, and I’ve had it up to here with executives and CEOs and Enron traders who happily steal from Grandma Millie — through her electric bill or her S&L account (remember that, Mr. Keating?) — and then play the Al Wilson card: You knew durn well I was a snake before you took me in.
Of course Kerry won’t capitalize on this. He should be reading these transcripts, in a calm voice, with an amusing set of substitute words for the expletives, at every campaign appearance. Maybe James Carville is right: Democrats don’t deserve to be elected.
Connie said on June 3, 2004 at 5:04 pm
Well don’t go to Border’s until you print out the Border’s discount coupon that is good this weekend only at http://www.bordersstores.com/ala.
You get 10% off. ALA gets a 10% donation.
Bob said on June 3, 2004 at 9:20 pm
Speaking of Mr. Keating, it was he who, out of deep concern for the moral decrepitude of America and Americans, founded and funded the arbiter of taste and morality, Citizens for Decency Through Law, the group that brought more publicity to the Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit in Cincinnati than the presenters ever could have paid for.
There are different kinds of morality. One renders greater service to society by reforming other people’s sexual attitudes than by conducting one’s own business with honesty and integrity.