Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal 6: "What's Okay with Kansas?"

In my latest reading of The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman interacts with Thomas Frank's 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas?  How Conservatives Won the Heart of America?  In that book, Frank argues that many people in Kansas vote Republican against their own economic interests because the Republican Party exploits social and cultural issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, creationism, etc.

I bought Frank's book, and I may still read it before this year is over and I go on to my "Year (or More) of Nixon" in 2013, in which I celebrate the Nixon centennial by reading and blogging through books by and about Richard Nixon.

Krugman disagrees with Frank.  First of all, Krugman believes that we're heading in a direction in which conservative stances on social and cultural issues are not particularly popular.  Krugman in making this point does not focus on Kansas specifically, but he cites polls that indicate that Americans are becoming increasingly tolerant of homosexuality.  Second, Krugman questions the notion that "religious and social issues...have actually led a large number of working-class whites to vote against their economic interests", for "'Values voters' seem to be decisive only in close races" (page 212).  And, third, Krugman looks specifically at Kansas, where, after 2004, prominent Republicans became Democrats in protest of the religious right.  Moreover, Krugman states that "At the time of writing, Kansas has a Democratic governor, and Democrats hold two of its four House seat" (page 212).  (I didn't know it's House was that small!)

Krugman's book is dated to 2008.  In my latest reading, Krugman talked a lot about how a Democratic majority is emerging, as the country becomes less white and more tolerant.  Consequently, Krugman talks about the Democratic victories in 2006, but his book was written before the Republican triumphs in 2010.  Moreover, the current governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, is not only a Republican, but a strongly conservative Republican when it comes to social issues.

Is Krugman's analysis dated, then?  He still may be on to something.  My impression is that many voted Republican in 2010, not out of a firm ideological conviction, but rather because they were disappointed about the economy.  I don't think that most of the electorate is hard-core conservative, and so there may be potential for a Democratic majority.  Or there could even be potential for a Republican majority, only Republicans will have to recognize that the white working-class may not be enough in the near future to carry them to victory on a consistent basis.  Republicans will have to show that their economic policies of less government can benefit minorities, such as Hispanics.  And perhaps even a conservative stance on social issues could help them with many Hispanic voters.  I don't know.  That thought would have to be balanced with the realization that many in America are becoming tolerant.

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