Frankly, a Bad Move

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial department must have been hard up to give that master of leftist condescension, Thomas Frank, a coveted place in the spotlight. Frank is the author of the influential liberal tract, What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. In “Billionaires for Big Government,” (Foundation Watch, January 2008) James Dellinger and I took a look at Frank in the context of the George Soros-led liberal donors’ consortium known as the Democracy Alliance. 

Although Frank is a good writer (he can be quite funny) he’s not exactly an original thinker. Essentially, Frank’s argument leans heavily on the Marxist concept of “false consciousness.” He contends that the people of Red State America are too stupid or brainwashed (or both) to realize that voting Republican and/or supporting conservative public policy proposals is not in their best interests. As we wrote in the article:

Conservative thinkers “imagine countless conspiracies in which the wealthy, powerful, and well connected – the liberal media, the atheistic scientists, the obnoxious eastern elite- pull the strings and make the puppets dance,” he writes.

Among Thomas Frank’s circle of acquaintances, it is natural to see Democrats as “the party of workers, of the poor, of the weak and the victimized.” Frank wrote his book because he was astonished to discover that most voters in the Great Plains were fundamentally pro-Bush, even though it was “a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns.” Frank’s book describes Americans as masses too ignorant or confused to recognize their own economic self-interest:

“People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. This species of derangement…has put the Republicans in charge of all three branches of government; it has elected presidents, senators, governors; it shifts the Democrats to the right and then impeaches Bill Clinton just for fun.”

Frank also resents the stereotyping of liberals as shallow, materialistic, arrogant urban elitists. This “latte libel” is one of conservatives’ “dearest rhetorical maneuvers.” It holds that “liberals are identifiable by their tastes and consumer preferences and that these tastes and preferences reveal the essential arrogance and foreignness of liberalism.” Astonishingly, Frank even dismisses the idea that America has a liberal elite, calling the notion “not intellectually robust.” The idea “has been refuted countless times, and it falls apart under any sort of systematic scrutiny.”

In his inaugural WSJ column, (“Obama’s Touch of Class,” April 21, 2008) Frank repeats his “latte libel” theory:

It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people, confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market.

 (Hat tip to Tim Graham)

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