Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Matter with Kansas Can Be Understood at Woolworth's
Tech Central Station ^ | 9/23/05 | Lee Harris

Posted on 09/23/2005 7:37:16 AM PDT by Valin

Not long ago, while waiting to meet some friends for dinner, I dropped into a bookstore where I happened to glance through the political bestseller, What's the Matter With Kansas? -- a title borrowed from a once famous article by a once famous editor, William Allen White.

I didn't buy the book, nor did I have enough time to read very much of it. But, then, who needs to read very much of any bestseller nowadays? Thanks to the thoughtful tendency of modern publishing houses to restrict themselves to publishing books that can be summed up in a single sentence, even non-speed readers like me can get the gist of a three hundred page tome within a matter of minutes. Besides, the book's title gave it away. Substitute The Red States for Kansas in the title, and you can see at once what the book's about.

Now to ask what is wrong with you implies that something is wrong with you, and what is wrong with the Red States would appear to be that they are inhabited by dupes and dopes.

How else do you explain why people who don't make a lot of money vote Republican, instead of voting Democratic? The Democratic Party, after all, represents the interests of the little guy. So why don't those who are less well off rally around the standard of the party that sticks up for the common man, instead of the party that caters to plutocrats with their Rolex watches and their yachts? Why, in short, don't middle Americans want to redistribute income, on the model of the welfare state? Is it possible to imagine greater economic irrationality than that?

These are the questions raised by What's the Matter With Kansas, and they are questions I raised myself back in the summer of 1972, when I was working in a small bookstore in Atlanta. Each day at noon, I would walk across the mall where I worked, and sit down at the counter of the Woolworth's department store. There I would order my lunch, and, as I ate it, I would listen attentively to what the waitresses had to say about the respective merits of the two men who were assiduously campaigning to get their vote in the upcoming Presidential Election, namely Richard Nixon and George McGovern.

McGovern wanted greater economic equality for Americans, and one of the tools by which he hoped to achieve this goal was by setting a limit on how much people could leave to their children. I can't exactly recall what this limit was to have been, but I distinctly remember that it was set high enough that it would not materially affect the lives of the waitresses I overheard discussing the McGovern plan. None of the waitresses, I should note, was in the least bit concerned that the limit on inheritance would prevent any of them from inheriting money from someone else; but each and everyone of them was fanatically determined that no president should ever prohibit her from leaving as much money as she could to her own kids.

The way the waitresses saw it, McGovern's plan was not perceived as a fair and equitable redistribution of our society's collective wealth. Instead it was seen as an attempt to rob their children of the fortune that each of them might just somehow provide for their kids, despite the overwhelming odds that any of them could ever be in a position to acquire a fortune of sufficient size to have it confiscated by the McGovern plan.

The waitresses accepted the inequality of wealth in the United States; they did not mind that some people could leave their kids millions of dollars, so long as they had a chance to do the same thing -- no matter how infinitesimal this chance might be. To them, the fact that some people had lots more money than others did not annoy them, nor did it call forth a desire to take from the rich and give to the poor. They accepted the chanciness of human existence, like gamblers placing their bets on the spin of a roulette wheel.

At the time, being a liberal Democrat myself, I pondered deeply over the position taken by the waitresses. Ought I mock it, or was there something there worthy of my respect and even admiration?

Eventually I came to see more to admire than to mock -- but that was only after I had begun to understand the role that the human imagination plays in the construction of our social order.

The waitresses at Woolworth's disliked McGovern's welfare state politics because it was threatening to take away one of life's most important imaginary pleasures -- that of imagining yourself rich. Everyone who is not rich can instantly understand the world of pleasure that the impoverished hero of The Fiddler on the Roof gets from singing the song: "If I were a rich man…." What bliss it is to pretend you are wealthy! -- far far more fun, I would imagine, than actually being it."

There is a cost to being able to imagine yourself striking it rich, and that is for others to actually strike it rich. In a world where all was brought down to the same level, from which no one could ever escape, even the dream of being a rich man would eventually die out, and along with it, the motive power that has produced the enormous wealth of the West: the fervent belief of the poor that they can become rich -- not by stealing from the rich, but from making a pile for themselves. What else, do you think, has released all the energy of capitalism, except the overheated imagination of men who had to make their own fortune in order to have any at all?

Not economic irrationality, but admirable ethical consistency lay behind my waitresses' Red State attitude to the proposed inheritance tax. They did not ask others to give up a right that they would not give up themselves, if they were ever in the position to exercise it. Why? Because they would have regarded it as sheer hypocrisy to prevent people from doing what they knew damn well that they would do themselves, if they were ever given the chance.

What else is this other than a recognition of a shared humanity? Even if it be a shared weakness?

Perhaps one day the critics of Middle America will begin to recognize the humanity they share with people they so quickly label as culturally backwards. Perhaps one day they might even begin to listen to them, and to learn from them, the way I did so many years ago, while eavesdropping on the waitresses at Woolworth's.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Philosophy; US: Kansas
KEYWORDS: heartland; leeharris; matterwithkansas; middleamerica; redstates

1 posted on 09/23/2005 7:37:17 AM PDT by Valin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Tolik

ping


2 posted on 09/23/2005 7:38:03 AM PDT by Valin (The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin

Good article - thanks for posting.


3 posted on 09/23/2005 7:40:21 AM PDT by GianniV
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin

the premise that the democrat party is the party of the common man, the poor and downtrodden is patently false.

the democrat party wants to keep the poor man down so that they depend upon the charity of the democrat party. kinds like keeping them slaves on the plantation.

it's the republicans who want to get governmnet out of the lives of people so those people can rise above their current situation and propser - whatever their color.


4 posted on 09/23/2005 7:42:41 AM PDT by camle (keep your mind open and somebody will fill it full of something for you.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin

What a great essay. I've said this for years, that one of America's great freedoms is the freedom to believe you can be rich someday. Why else do so many people go to casinos and play lotteries? Everyone has a shot at the gold in America. Each generation produces its own rags-to-riches stories that add to the legend of America and to the belief of every American that it might be them, or someone they know. Only a few nutty socialists really want this to go away.


5 posted on 09/23/2005 7:45:16 AM PDT by Dems_R_Losers (2,4,6,8 - a burka makes me look overweight!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: camle

the democrat party wants to keep the poor man down so that they depend upon the charity of the democrat party. kinds like keeping them slaves on the plantation.


I think that's the point of the piece.


6 posted on 09/23/2005 7:53:38 AM PDT by Valin (The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Valin

yes, and i was echoing it. it needs to be repeated early and often - kinda like how democrats vote.

which is why they oppose voter ID's and/or inked fingers.


7 posted on 09/23/2005 7:56:07 AM PDT by camle (keep your mind open and somebody will fill it full of something for you.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Valin

Good article, on second hand, great article!

BTTT


8 posted on 09/23/2005 8:04:42 AM PDT by A message (The Democrat party platform is NOT in the mainstream. It is just foolish.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin
>>>>>Perhaps one day the critics of Middle America will begin to recognize the humanity they share with people they so quickly label as culturally backwards. Perhaps one day they might even begin to listen to them, and to learn from them,

Yeah, and one day s--t will stick to the moon. The liberal sneerocracy would never deign to breathe the same air as the rest of us.
9 posted on 09/23/2005 8:05:11 AM PDT by .cnI redruM ("They're thin and they were riding bicycles" - Ted Turner on NK malnutrition.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: camle

"The democrats are the party of the little guy"...one of my hot button statements. I've been known to raise my voice to complete strangers when I hear that.


10 posted on 09/23/2005 8:05:58 AM PDT by Valin (The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Valin
They did not ask others to give up a right that they would not give up themselves, if they were ever in the position to exercise it. Why? Because they would have regarded it as sheer hypocrisy to prevent people from doing what they knew damn well that they would do themselves, if they were ever given the chance.

Exactly. This pinpoints nicely just what you have to LACK to be a liberal democrat: the ethical sense not to condemn the rich for doing what any rational person would do if rich.

11 posted on 09/23/2005 8:06:47 AM PDT by VadeRetro (Liberalism is a cancer on society. Creationism is a cancer on conservatism.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: camle

As I tell my Lib friends, we all want the same things. We want to eradicate poverty. We want people to be prosperous, happy and secure. We want people to be free.

We just disagree on how to achieve those things.


12 posted on 09/23/2005 8:08:28 AM PDT by gridlock (IF YOU'RE NOT CATCHING FLAK, YOU'RE NOT OVER THE TARGET...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Valin

We're Right in the Middle.


13 posted on 09/23/2005 8:09:00 AM PDT by rightinthemiddle (Free Speech is a Right. Being Wrong is Just...Wrong.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin
'What's the Matter With Kansas?' is a stupid book idea on its face. It starts from the premise that places like San Fransicko are normal.

Here is a book that is clearly thought out and better written:

This book is also about to be the number one bestseller at Amazon.com.

14 posted on 09/23/2005 8:16:02 AM PDT by Lancey Howard
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin
How else do you explain why people who don't make a lot of money vote Republican, instead of voting Democratic? The Democratic Party,

Yeah, like I'm going to sell out my values and beliefs so I can get an extra few dollars off the backs of my fellow citizens.

What the dems don't get is what they offer -- ( our own) dollars in exchange for "all we value" - isn't worth the trade.

What's the bribe for having me agree that killing a baby the day before it's born is OK? How much will they give me so I'll hate the military that protects me?

Creepy dems are so use to buying votes - like they do with the dependent poor. Their dream is to get us all feeding at the trough. And the price? What would it cost? Would they force shopping at high priced boutique stores where I have to pay through the nose, rather than Walmart? Yes they would. They're control freaks and they have their "pets" and I'm not one of them. They would control wages and time off and what I pay. And I suspect their Union buddies would make out well -- and that I wouldn't.

And I'd love to give up my home so their little envirowachos can have a beautiful place to backpack.

Yeah, I'm ready to give up all my values, beliefs and dreams so they can "pay me off" ... right around the time hell freezes over. I read the book -- it was silly, campus intellectual crap of the 1970s. These guys don't have a clue.

15 posted on 09/23/2005 8:29:30 AM PDT by GOPJ (When incentives are switched, patterns change. Until then, it's same old, same old.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Lancey Howard

What IS the matter with KS? They always elect conservatives to represent them in DC but they have a liberal Democrat governor and a GOP controlled legislature that doesn't sound very conservative, based on what I read.


16 posted on 09/23/2005 8:31:12 AM PDT by TNCMAXQ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: Valin
I'd rewite this line:Perhaps one day the critics of Middle America will begin to recognize the humanity they share with people they so quickly label as culturally backwards. Perhaps one day they might even begin to listen to them, and to learn from them, the way I did so many years ago, while eavesdropping on the waitresses at Woolworth's.

The cultural elite are far from sharing this humanity with the people they so quickly label as culturally backward, they are so far from the self-honestly required to have that humanity that they don't even understand it, let alone share it.

17 posted on 09/23/2005 8:57:50 AM PDT by Red Boots
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin
The waitresses at Woolworth's disliked McGovern's welfare state politics because it was threatening to take away one of life's most important imaginary pleasures -- that of imagining yourself rich.

Yeah, and as long as the dems think the problem is we all imagine we can be rich someday, they'll lose forever.

The guy who wrote this still doesn't "get" it. He comes across as a brain-dead liberal college kid of the 1970s who is older but no wiser and still looks down on the working class. The "other". A working class which he imagines to be similar to sweet, young, but stupid waitresses. Doesn't have a clue. Really, no clue. None, nada, zip.

The writer of this piece might as well be a liberal if this is all the insight he can muster.

18 posted on 09/23/2005 9:07:53 AM PDT by GOPJ (When incentives are switched, patterns change. Until then, it's same old, same old.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Boots
BINGO:

...they are so far from the self-honestly required to have that humanity that they don't even understand it, let alone share it.

19 posted on 09/23/2005 9:09:02 AM PDT by GOPJ (When incentives are switched, patterns change. Until then, it's same old, same old.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Valin
McGovern wanted greater economic equality for Americans, and one of the tools by which he hoped to achieve this goal was by setting a limit on how much people could leave to their children.

Never works...

20 posted on 09/23/2005 2:31:53 PM PDT by GOPJ (When incentives are switched, patterns change. Until then, it's same old, same old.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: GOPJ

The left LOVES "The People"..it's people they can't stand.


21 posted on 09/23/2005 8:59:17 PM PDT by Valin (The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Valin
The left LOVES "The People"..it's people they can't stand.

You're right. And they love the "working class" but don't like people who shop at Walmart. Are they silly or what?

22 posted on 09/23/2005 9:06:50 PM PDT by GOPJ (When incentives are switched, patterns change. Until then, it's same old, same old.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: GOPJ

Are they silly or what?


WALMART! oh ick!


23 posted on 09/23/2005 9:40:12 PM PDT by Valin (The right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: camle
Ah but I fell for the democrat is for the working man, republicans for the rich lie for years. Of course, I know now it just the opposite. I still am amazed that people don't seem to grasp the fact that the Kennedy's, Kerry's, Clinton's et al are filthy rich!
24 posted on 09/23/2005 9:46:40 PM PDT by ladyinred (It is all my fault okay?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: gridlock
As I tell my Lib friends, we all want the same things. We want to eradicate poverty. We want people to be prosperous, happy and secure. We want people to be free.

We just disagree on how to achieve those things.

Your Lib friends may agree with those goals. Problem is, the Lib leadership does not.

Instead, the Lib leadership seeks a society composed of leaders (them) and the led (everybody else). Thus, in a very real sense, poverty is their friend and prosperity is their enemy.

25 posted on 09/23/2005 10:02:23 PM PDT by okie01 (The Mainstream Media: IGNORANCE ON PARADE)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: okie01

Sad, but true. The Lib leaders cannot help but know that their formulas do not work. Their motivation is power, and the promise of a government that takes care of people is just the bait they use so sucker in the credulous.


26 posted on 09/24/2005 3:51:29 AM PDT by gridlock (IF YOU'RE NOT CATCHING FLAK, YOU'RE NOT OVER THE TARGET...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: Valin; Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; King Prout; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; ...

Nailed It!

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for the perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author all 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of the good stuff that is worthy of attention. You can see the list of articles I pinged to lately  on  my page.
You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about). Besides this one, I keep 2 separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson and Orson Scott Card.  

27 posted on 09/26/2005 5:37:45 AM PDT by Tolik
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Valin
" ... Perhaps one day the critics of Middle America will begin to recognize the humanity they share with people they so quickly label as culturally backwards. Perhaps one day they might even begin to listen to them ... "


Though I am an optimist, I am not naive. I'll keep my brass shiny and the metal surfaces oiled & clean.



28 posted on 09/26/2005 6:39:20 AM PDT by G.Mason
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson