Time for a sequel?

LiberalArtsDude has posted a thoughtful review of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” in which he gives the movie a solid 4/5 star recommendation but is left wanting more:

Fast forward to 2010 where conservative activism is explicitly angrier, economically populist and increasingly organized as in the rise of the Tea Party movement. I go back to my original question: does the film shed new insights to Thomas Frank’s basic question of why the right wing and the Republican Party are so popular among people who are being steamrolled and whose interests are being gutted by the policies of politicians who subscribe to conservative ideology and who belong to that political party?

I think a What’s the Matter with Kansas Part II is crying to be made in light of the events I described above. Yes, the film is relevant to presenting the values voter and the sway Republican Party and conservative ideology continues to have for a significant numbers of working and middle class Americans. In the post-Obama era in the wake of the economic collapse of Wall Street in 2007, bailouts and widespread populist anger, conservatism and the Republican Party, rather than be weakened and get marginalized to irrelevance, has experienced a resurgence with a vengeance.

These developments are counter-intuitive to me who sees conservative economic polices and the political party that largely advocated those policies as having been completely discredited by the economic collapse. Yet here we are in 2010 with Sarah Palin becoming a major player in national politics, the grassroots, anti-establishment energy of the Tea Party movement has become mainstream and co-opted by the Republican Party, right wing TV and radio as popular as ever. 2010 is about economic policy and how conservatism and the Republican Party continues to hold sway over a significant part of the population. What does this mean in terms of the American voter, the political choices that we have and the prospects of a radical uprising in the manner of the 19th century Kansas radicalism? If there ever were a time for 19th-century style Populist resurgence, it would be now. Yet the Right, inexplicably, seems to have the advantage on that end. Why?

Thomas Frank thinks that the Right keeps winning control of the public debate because honest liberalism never gets a chance to be put into practice – as he reflects on in this week’s column in the Wall Street Journal:

What a difference a year has made for conservatism.

By the end of 2008, the wars and scandals of the George W. Bush years had turned the public against the Republican Party. The financial crisis had invalidated central assumptions of neoclassical economics and even the hottest of culture-war conflicts was cooling off.

But somehow the right’s single greatest idea—the essential villainy of government—came through the deluge unscathed.

Our movie shows the power of populist movements, and how they can serve either liberal and conservative agendas.  In 2010, a right-wing populist movement is attracting legions of followers who feel besieged by shadowy, powerful interests.  The left is stuck with Barack Obama, who doesn’t begrudge a banker’s $17 million bonus.


  1. Liberal Arts Dude
    February 13, 2010

    Many thanks for featuring my blog post — much appreciated!

    One thing to remember is that Left populist groups and movements have not ceased to exist. The Left still has the Socialists, the Green Party, and various independent candidacies for local and state level offices — the populist, non-mainstream Left never disappeared in the wake of the rise of the Right populists.

    Absent a mass media megaphone like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News, the Left populists would have a harder time competing. But I think that in the 19th century and the 1920s and 30s, the Left was able to successfully form popular Populist movements using tools and methods that were certainly not as high tech as the tools we have now. Can a 21st century Left populist movement come about as an alternative to the Right’s version of it?

  2. Steve
    February 13, 2010

    I have to say that it is not surprising that the laser focused single minded simplistic far right has had success with it’s continued red herring message.

    The progressive and to a larger extent the liberal party, is by definition egalitarian to it’s diverse member classes. While morally fair, it is fundamentally weak in its response to a singularity of message that the far right spews. The Right is nothing if not admirably on message, something the Left has yet, if ever will be, able to accomplish.

    With that said, the Progressives need to adopt a very similar stance to the Right. A “fight fire with fire” approach is the only thing a bully respects. Diplomacy is not an option when bullets are flying and bombs are dropping. Trying to walk the middle ground only gets you shot at from both sides. Obama has blundered his way straight into a political version of a WW I no mans land. If this reality is not heeded, they will never come to the table to work out true bi-partisan agreements. Bi-partisan rhetoric from the Right only serves as a shield for their continued take no prisoners tactics. The Soviet/US cold war analogy is apropos. With no cold war mutual assured destruction stance, the far right will not stop.

    Make no mistake, this is war at its most fundamental core. At least the populist republicans think so. Take a wild guess who has been buying up all the small arms amunition they can??


  3. Liberal Arts Dude
    February 13, 2010

    Check this out


    A new group has formed — the Coffee Party — as an alternative to the Tea Parties. In a month they have formed over 40 chapters nationwide and got 20,000 fans on their Facebook page


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