what’s wrong with kansas? russia iran disco suck

10 11 2010

Sharon Borthwick writes on the meaning of the success of right-wing ‘Tea Party’ candidates in the United States midterm elections

Shocking as it may be, the Tea Party movement has been a great success. This ‘grass roots’ conservative activism is not a new phenomenon and it would be interesting to look at its recent history.

Thomas Frank’s 2003, What’s the Matter with Kansas? proves a useful tool in that regard. Frank himself, grew up in Kansas and was a deeply conservative adolescent who hero-worshipped Ronald Reagan. He learnt from older men an anger that was “endless, implacable, spectacular”.

This was a middle class neighbourhood, the men in question, self-made, comfortably off, yet their indignation knew no bounds and could be directed towards even benign interventions: “water fluoridation! How dare they”.

Frank thinks that these figures from his 70’s childhood never recovered from the 60’s, their favourite politicians, the right wing press, keeping them at boiling point, bemoaning crazy Women’s libbers, obscene art, lack of respect. Frank took it for granted that salt of the earth, blue-collar types would share this outlook and considered he was proved right as he pondered the legend, “Russia Iran Disco Suck” spray-painted in a poor neighbourhood of Kansas City: “The logic was flawless. As sucked disco, so sucked communism. So sucked Iran. Even more inspiring was the unspoken corollary: as rocked Van Halen, so rocked Ronald Reagan.”

Frank learnt the truth about class privilege when he reached college. Locked out of the fraternities, the grooming grounds of the elite to positions of power, he moved firmly to the left, realising he had been duped. Thus his mission to root out explanations and not just on behalf of his own middle class origins.

Why are working class Americans voting Republican against their own interests? And why are they moving the Republican Party even further to the right? In Kansas, Frank traces this back to as late as the 1990’s. The angry self-made men of the 70’s were few in number back then, if particularly vocal and determined to be noticed. He was a particularly uncool kid, by his own admission, in following their lead. And Kansas did not have a long history of conservatism, though it did have a history of left radicalism.

In the late nineteenth century was born the People’s Party, also known as the Populists. This was a crusade on behalf of poor white cotton and wheat farmers in response to the dropping prices of those crops. They campaigned against the banks, the railroads and all the elite and had their biggest success in Kansas when William Peffer became the party’s first US Senator. Kansas was the first state to propose women’s suffrage in 1867 and achieved that aim by 1912. They even reformed abortion laws ahead of other states and prior to the Roe versus Wade decision of 1973. Strange then, that it was that same issue, that spurred the first great leaps to the right. 1991 saw the rise of the deeply conservative pro-life campaign, ‘Operation Rescue’. Religious fervour mark these origins and pushed forward to new ground, declaring against Darwinian theory being taught in schools.  But Republican politicians, though declaring sympathy with these causes never realise laws in their favour. The reasons become all too clear. When the working class are up in arms for these causes they are sidetracked and not tackling what is really standing in their way. They are not thinking about economic issues.

Republican politicians feign apoplectic fits of rage supposedly on behalf of the people over other matters too. Liberalism becomes the dirty word describing all that’s ill with the world. Great sneakiness manifests in this regard. Take, for instance, anti-intellectualism, decrying against these privileged college boys, with their suspect cosmopolitan tastes, their foreign cheeses, their fine wines, their book learning. These snobby types are ascribed to the Democrats who look down on the rest of us mere mortals. The oil rich, Yale educated, George W Bush pushes forward a good ol’ country boy image.

This ludicrous propaganda is pushed forth so hard that it’s winning. There are so many prominent figures proselytising for its cause, there’s barely room for failure. Entire television and radio stations, TV evangelists, right wing DJ stars, the press – all hard at work manufacturing hard luck stories for the elite of America, crying out for even bigger gains for corporate success: “ “We are here”, they scream, “to cut your taxes”” and it would come as no surprise to Thomas Frank that they have even learnt to scream, “Public health care plans! How dare they”.

But are campaigns such as the Tea Party movement really grassroots initiatives? Apparently the Tea Party (standing for Taxed Enough Already) was originally formed of disgruntled citizens but billionaire concerns, seeing the potential for their own iniquitous gain “catalyse and direct real mobilisations”. George Monbiot describes ‘Astroturf’ campaigns (The Guardian, 25th October), fake grassroots movements. The Koch Brothers of Koch industries, the largest private company in America, involved in oil, coal, chemical industries and logging with 100 billion a year turnover, soon realised the potential in this mobilisation and began hosting Tea Party events in various states across America, oh, yes please less taxes and lets be less retrained by regulations too. Down with environmental agencies, they cry, and the people cry along with them, “Down with our health and Safety”. False consciousness rules!

So, can we make a comparison with the Tea Party activists and our own stubborn working class Tory voters, some sources saying that they make up a third of the Tory vote and have done since 1945? There are clearly some elements missing from the agenda of our own deluded turncoats as contrasted with America’s, most noticeably, Jesus Christ; we’d be really shocked if he put in an appearance.  What of that last refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism? The Tea Party, certainly – swathed in stars and stripes, dressed as uncle Sam, eternally on about the forefathers and the constitution.

I would guess the two sets would converge here – a belief in some mystical, golden past, when everything was just dandy in the land of the free and good old Blighty, though their imaginations are fed from different sources, ours born more from institutions, deference to the monarchy, for instance and deference altogether being far more prevalent – more believing the rulers no best than railing against them and their interventions.

And this is what’s saddest of all about the Tea Party and Operation Rescue, the latter going so far as to engage in civil disobedience. All this energy and pent up rage, all this activism, use of leftist tactics and language – ‘we, the people’, they shout, listen to us, gather with us, attack the government; all for the wrong cause, shooting themselves in the foot.

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6 responses

11 11 2010
bahar mustafa

Firstly, I just want to say what a brilliantly written article! It was a joy to read (although the content is pretty depressing…)

In regards to a large portion of our working class being devout supporters of the conservative party; I think many of the families who vote for them are ones whose interests lie in preserving traditional family values as a reaction to the U.K becoming more and more sexually explicit/ promiscuous, becoming more tolerant of queer sexualities, divorces rising, teen pregnancies rising, more and more young couples choosing co-habitation instead of marriage, etc. The conservatives, although have maintained a more secular approach, still appeal to the many working class families pseudo-religious reserved values who fear that *broken homes* and the breakdown of the family are breeding and allowing criminals and hooligan youths to run rampant on our streets, young girls to freely flaunt their bodies to young men and degrade themselves by getting pregnant (who’s the daddy?!) and then leeching off the government and tax payers in council houses, fobbing their bastard children off to their grans or friends while they go out, get trashed and get pregnant again.

Also, in regards to the most recent rise in support, they obviously feel let down and dissolusioned by Labour, who they blame for our crisis and our tolerance of immigrants (although many families I spoke to were immigrated themselves to the U.K, or were at least second generation immigrants).

Many people (including, surprisingly, many young adults) I spoke to during last years general elections expressed many of the aforementioned concerns. They felt like they wanted to protect themselves financially and this means tighter immigration control. There also seemed to be a need to preserve the family as a tight unit that, if strong enough, can avoid falling victim to breeding drop out youths, gangs and benefit sponges, which would be an embrassement. And many of the families I spoke to, as I said were at least second generation immigrants, consisted of Italian, Turkish (Cypriot), Greek (Cypriot) etc who, within their culture, obtain many homophobic and sexist views. Some conversations I remember went a little like this: “Well, i don’t mind gay people, as long as they don’t shove their gayness in my face or kiss in public or anything. I mean what if kids see? Its not exactly suitable for them, is it?”

Anyway, these are just some ideas or reasons why I think some of the working class are so trusting of the Torys, and believe they will save our godforsaken country…

12 11 2010
jim

When you go on about pregnant teenage girls getting council houses and benefit spongers, your showing what you and probably your first generation immigrant parents really think. Remember these people may not have been as adept at education or commerce as you. They have though in their millions shed blood for Britain and did on the whole provide a welcomeing tolerant atmosphere for successive waves of immigrants. It is disgusting how acceptable it has become to knock the white poor, and to forget that it is they that have often made the ultimate sacrifice and deserve a hell of a lot more than their present predicament.

13 11 2010
Sharon Borthwick

Jim, that is not what Bahar thinks. I know her, its clear you don’t. “Adept at commerce”. What! Clearly, you have decided this on the grounds that she has a Turkish name. Bahar does not attack any section of the working class and try to cause divisions between them as you do. As a Communist she wants them united against the ruling class that are right now laying into us all. They are trying to break down the welfare state! You have fallen for one of their favourite tricks – divide and rule! “Adept at commerce”! Bahar isn’t (not a trait I’ve ever found in any communists). But our rulers are, they only act in the interests of commerce and nothing else and that’s what their wars are about. They use those young men you mention to expand their empires. American and British oil companies have now got their contracts in Iraq over the dead bodies of those soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Bahar is describing conservative attitudes that she certainly doesn’t adhere to.

13 11 2010
Sharon Borthwick

Hi Bahar,

Thanks for being nice. There is so much to say on the subject – why some working class vote Tory? Sounds like you’ve got an article brimming here? Actual, first hand interviews with some who do, sounds interesting. There are 2 or 3 people in my family who share lots of the views of the people you describe here. Its especially miserable when those attitudes pass on to younger generations. In, ‘What’s The Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank glances only in passing on the immigration issue, as he thinks it doesn’t play a very big part in this movement right in America. It sounds like the ‘decency’ factor is shared by both the Kansan’s and the communities you describe. I completely dismissed Jesus Christ as a factor, but that’s not altogether true. Here, in Peckham the evangelical churches are really strong – homophobia very prevalent – its yet another thing to discuss – the new rise of religion – do the evangelicals here vote more towards the right or not as they do in America … Hope to see you soon. Great bit on the Oxford women – oh and Christians there too. I think I probably did wrong to dismiss Jesus and all the other cults abroad …

16 11 2010
jim

Sharon, I truely apologise for getting the wrong end of the stick but bloody hell,reading through the comment again who the hell would,nt. The attitudes in the comment were so offensive that my response was equally offensive. This is an extremely emotive issue and the attitudes in the comment are just as popular with the successful immigrant community as they are with the white British. Whatever the machinations of international capital are when it comes to war and death,that level of sacrifice can be bloody important, where would we be today without the soviet, allied victory, I cannot personally think of a finer example of working class solidarity and believe this should count for something when their grandchildren whether white asian or black british are treated like shit. It is the most annoying when the left villify the british born for wanting priority over recent immigrants for council housing or for limits on immigration, i,ve never met an immigrant who does,nt understand this position. Its partly this we know best,patronising attitude that makes some vote for the BNP and unlike kansas it is not Glen Beck and fox news that are responsible . I want true communism to, I would love a situationist style, no private property, one world revolution, and if you think that their is anything even mildly reactionary in any of my opinions then you are mistaken.

17 11 2010
bahar mustafa

Ok, firstly, thanks Sharon for defending me there, I really appreciate it as re-reading my comment i can actually understand why someone who doesn’t know me very well would come to the conclusions Jim has… I realised that the way it sounded in my head seemed to reflect my actual point a lot more successfully than how it looks on paper. Sharon, you are totally right, i was just reiterating the homophobic, racist, anti-working class views of a lot of families/individuals and attempting to give some reasons as to why i think they may have these views, but i guess because i failed to add quotation marks , or explain that was what i was trying to do, it just comes across as me actually calling people benefit sponges, bastard children, hooligon youths, etc….

For example, this chunk:…” breeding and allowing criminals and hooligan youths to run rampant on our streets, young girls to freely flaunt their bodies to young men and degrade themselves by getting pregnant (who’s the daddy?!) and then leeching off the government and tax payers in council houses, fobbing their bastard children off to their grans or friends while they go out, get trashed and get pregnant again. ”

I purposefuly being contraversial and rude to express the absurdity of the attitudes expressed by many dissolusioned people today… these are the views that the ruling class are perpetuating, as Sharon said, to divide and conquer.

So i am sorry if i offended anyone , i was merely trying to make a point of how rediculous and hurtful these attitudes are, these are not my own personal feelings.

*disclaimer* THESE VIEWS ARE NOT THE VIEWS SHARED BY THE AUTHOR – I WAS MERELY USING DARK COMEDY AND VULGURE LANGUAGE TO EXPRESS THE VIEWS OF SOME OTHER’S – THESE ARE NOT MY OWN!!!




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