In 2004, lefty commentator Thomas Frank published a book “What’s The Matter With Kansas” – which analyzed the growing conservative majority in America’s heartland…
…in the most patronizing, contemptuous way I’d heard until the mainstream media’s response to the Tea Party five years later. Frank hammered on the idea that conservatives in the heartland were “voting against their interests” by voting Conservative.
The ‘Interests”, of course, were limited to “having government take care of you, provided you send it enough taxes” (my phrase, not Frank’s).. ”Kansas” – Frank’s home state on the one hand, and his and every lefty pundit’s short-hand for “all those dumb rubes I left behind when I went to an Ivy League school” on the other – has “interests” that begin with getting farm subsidies and end with single-payer health care.
Frank’s thesis, in other words? States, and citizens, are dependents. Like pets. Like a herd of cattle for which a noble farmer is responsible; it’s in the cattle’s interest to make the farmer’s life easy. Or maybe like children – little people who aren’t quite fully formed, who depend on the older, wiser, parents to keep them on the straight and narrow until a majority that never comes.
And it highlit one of the big disputes between “progressives” and conservatives: what is the role of a person, a citizen? To a liberal, it’s “vote when told to vote, pay your taxes when told to pay taxes, and don’t get in the way”. To a conservative, it’s to be one of the free association of equals that consents to having a government, and – make no mistake – controls that government.
This argument came to the nation, and Minnesota, this past few months.
Last spring, Representative Mary Franson from the Alexandria area took nationwide heat for a comment which some of the local Sorosphere’s ‘dimmer bulbs yanked out of context (and a few of the less less-bright ones correctly called out as a dumb hit) which was, in its entirety, correct; long-term dependence on welfare does, in fact, treat people like animals. Like pets, at best; little critters for whose well-being the master – the owner, or government, depending on which end of the metaphor you’re talking about – is responsible.
And about the same time the Sorosphere was denouncing Franson with florid indignation, the Obama Administration came out and proved that Franson was exactly right – that the government did in fact see citizens as monochromatic consumers, as ivestock, dependent on their owner/master/government for their ongoing wellbeing, with the fabulously inept and gloriously spoof-worthy and, beyond that, downright Orwellian “Julia” campaign.
David Clemens – in a piece called “Elvis Vs. Julia”, which is actually a defense of humanities education, the discipline of studying the why of humanity, which is in its entirely worth a read for its own sake - cuts to the reason “progressives” attitudes about the government / citizen relationship, as revleated by “Julia” are not just toxic, but dehumanizing:
This is why selling the Julia concept frightens me. She doesn’t yearn to be free, like a human; she yearns to be kept. Julia embraces the piano key life that the president offers, and like W. H. Auden’s Unknown Citizen, she will act and behave predictably, she will choose and think correctly.
But in literature (and life) we recoil from those who trade freedom for safety nets and soft landings. The great anti-utopian novelists warned us over and over what happens when we make that bargain: George Orwell’s Winston Smith, Aldous Huxley’s John Savage, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s D-503 would rather suffer or die than join the Party, take the soma, or blend into the One State.
So what I find most chilling about the Julia ad concept is its creators’ cynical view of Americans, particularly women. And what if her creators are right? As Michael Walsh writes, “It’s tough to accept that perhaps a majority of our fellow Americans would cheerfully trade liberty for a false sense of security.” That is, how many workforce-ready but literature-free voters see The Life of Julia and find her flat, subsidized, feckless life desirable? With the liberal arts in decline, how many “miss the connection?” One must have been exposed to Orwell, Huxley, and Zamyatin in order to see their relationship to Julia and hear the warning.
Clearly, much of the left does – or, worse, “gets it”, but feels the trade is worthwhile, or worst of all, sees themselves as the “shepherds” needed to manage all of us sheep, or Julias, or whatever line of metaphor you want to run with.
A perennial question that divides the political left and right is this: what sort of beings are we? Do we have an immutable, perhaps transcendent, nature that will surrender everything utopia for autonomy, agency, and freedom (Elvis) [who, it might be said, rebelled against the very security that his phenomenally-successful career ]? Or is there no inherent nature, and humans are just socially constructed, plastic, seeking nothing but safety and a reliable sense of well-being (Julia)? Political Science, Psychology, and Anthropology cannot answer that question, and the sciences can only measure what is measurable. The liberal arts and humanities, however, insist that we are like Elvis, and that those who trade liberty for comfort always live to regret it.
Well, some humanities observe this. Others are waiting on their next NEH grant.
But the real question is – which is a better reflection of what humans are, and can be? Conservatism, with its immutable standards and great consequences and sometimes greater hurdles? Or a life bellied up to the government trough, like the one Obama and Mark Dayton clearly see for us?
What’s the matter with Kansas – and with Kansans like us?
We’re human, and we want to stay that way.