What's The Matter With Kansas ... Republicans?
Thomas Frank's groundbreaking 2004 book, What's The Matter With Kansas, explored the apparent disconnect between a populace with a history of populist values and a habit of voting for "populist" Republicans who don't reflect their values.
As Frank noted: "What we are observing, then, is a populist movement that has done irreversible harm to the material interests of the common people it professes to love so tenderly -- a form of class animosity that rages against a shadowy 'elite' while enthroning a new aristocracy of bankers, brokers, and corporate thieves. "
But that may be changing, and rapidly.
Polls released today by SurveyUSA show Gov. Kathleen Sebelius holding a 13-point lead over her Republican challenger and Democrat Paul Morrison maintaining a nearly identical lead over the incument Attorney General Phill Kline.
But there's more to the story than just a couple of Kansas Democrats running strong campaigns.
As the Washington Post notes reports, "Nor is Morrison alone [as a longtime Republican politician now running as a Democrat]. In a state that voted nearly 2 to 1 for President Bush in 2004, nine former Republicans will be on the November ballot as Democrats. Among them is Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who changed parties to run for lieutenant governor with the popular Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius. ...The spirit of the attempted Democratic comeback in Kansas, set by Sebelius, is a search for the workable political center."
Can Kansas go from bright red to purple? Stranger things have happened. As MyDD.com notes, Oregon and Vermont were once Republican strongholds, but now are among the bluest states in the nation.
Kansas Republicans have succeeded by being cultural populists, convincing voters that being against abortion rights, the estate tax and labor laws was in the best interest of working families. It's the same sort of logic that has allowed wealthy politicians -- including Steve Forbes and George W. Bush -- to spin themselve as "populists" who share the same interests as unemployed union laborers and minimum-wage workers at the local Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, Kansas has over the past 25 or so years become one of the poorest states in the country, with one of the bleakest economic futures.
Perhaps a move to the center will lead to more attentive leadership, caring as much about working families as the tiny minority of Americans who would benefit from a repeal of the estate tax.