Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America - by Thomas Frank

Those who read my Was post know that this book has been on my "to-read" list. So, writing that post prompted me, finally, to read it. I didn't even have to request an interlibrary loan. It was on the shelf at the good ol' Clement C. Maxwell Library all along. This book about how some rural or working class conservatives vote against their own economic self interests in order to vote for a conservative social agenda (pro-life, anti gay marriage) was a real eye-opener for me. I was interested to learn that many of those who vote that way are quite aware of what they are doing, but are willing to sacrifice themselves to the cause. I expected to see a lot in this work about book banning, but there was only a few places where it was mentioned. The first place I found a reference to censorship was in regard to evolution "which we will strike from the books." (If you haven't seen the movie Kansas vs. Darwin it is definitely worth watching - a documentary about a modern-day "monkey trial"). We also learn about a conservative candidate who loses conservative votes for "supporting the availability of AIDS literature in the public library...ten years previously." It was apparently not always thus. Frank recounts a school board meeting in the early eighties in which "an angry parent...wished to remove a number of books from [the] high school library." In those pre-Contract with America days "the presiding administrators had trouble restraining their laughter" as the woman "ran through her list of accusations-prefab stuff that she had probably heard from the John Birch Society."

I laughed reading about Pope Michael I, the sedevacantist, who through reading material in his "personal library of religious books" determined that Pope John Paul II was, in fact, not the pope due to "manifold heresies of the church since the sixties" and through a vote of 5 people, including himself and his parents, was appointed the new pope. I think that the good thing about public libraries is that they really do try to collect a vast array of materials, with differing points of view.

The final word in libraries comes on the second to last page of the book when Frank tells us that the public library of Kansas City, Kansas, described in the 1939 WPA guide, with its "elaborate Italian Renaissance architecture" is gone. Leveled by "progress" along with some other historic features. It is disappointing to lose some of this history, but I guess I don't expect to see many of the things described in depression-era guides. I am also sure that the library that was razed would probably be too small for Kansas City now.

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