Friday, November 19, 2004

What's the Matter with Kansas?

By now, everyone has read -- or at least heard of -- Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, right? If you haven't read it and don't care to, here is a short article that Frank adapted from the book: "Red-State America against Itself" (July 20, 2004).

Frank bemoans that "the things that liberalism once stood for -- equality and economic security -- will have been abandoned completely" as the Democratic Leadership Council pursues its dream of collecting "the wealthy suburban Mods" alienated by "the crazy Cons" for good (Frank, July 20, 2004), but there is no turning back the clock. The Democratic Party's transformation is, at bottom, not a nefarious DLC conspiracy. It is part and parcel of the structural shift in the global economy.

The welfare state funded by progressive taxation rests upon private production largely independent of the state, the existence of most jobs and tax bases (profits and wages) being consequently dependent on profit rates and individual private investors' willingness to invest in production at home (not abroad), all determined by the market.

The ruling class could never tolerate socialism but did tolerate the welfare state when a socialist alternative existed as a threat and the Great Depression made workers rebellious. The compromise between capital and labor that was the welfare state lasted until the mid-1970s, when stagflation hurt profit rates and made workers restive again, who challenged the trade union bureaucracy that had brokered the compromise. In response, the power elite attacked workers, through a set of policies called neoliberalism -- the beginning of the end of the welfare state not just in the United States but all over the world. Hence the hegemony of the DLC here, "New Labour" in Britain, and so on -- you know the story.

It's of course worth defending what's left of the welfare state, just as it's worth defending what's left of socialism like Cuba, but we can't defend either by dreaming of the ghosts of the Democratic Party past.

Take a look at CNN's "Election Results" in Kansas, and scrawl down to the "Vote by Income" section. See? Both the Democratic Party and white workers in "Red-State America" are too far gone to even contemplate patching up their failed marriage.

What is to be done? Hard to say, but I'd look to the hardy souls who voted for Ralph Nader and anarchists like Chuck "Chuck0" Munson, who, by the way, can use some donations to finance new wheels so he can achieve his "goal of doing rural organizing and outreach in the region" without borrowing his parents' vehicle.

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