Thomas Frank is the author of "What's the Matter with Kansas?" which makes the argument that Kansas is crazy to vote for Republicans on social issues, which should be subordinate to economic issues. He's also written books about how obsessed the country is with the market and advertising etc. Basically, it is standard Vance-Packard/C. Right Mills/Greening of America 1960s leftist social criticism updated to the present. I have the Kansas book and will report on it soon (the election wasn't conducive to outside reading). Anyway, Frank reviews a number of books today in the New York Times Book Review on the big question of political polarization, Red State v. Blue State, Metro v. Retro etc. This is quite important for this race because, as you know, Eastern newspapers and commentators would often say 'Daschle has to run in a Red State.' Anyway, as Frank notes, some people believe that the old 1930s class divisions in American life are being replaced by Red v. Blue divisions:
The essential cleavage in American life, the authors argue, is not between left and right or business class and working class; instead, it is a regional matter, a cultural divide between the states, polarized and unbridgeable.
I tend to agree with Frank that too many details are sacrificed to make the Red v. Blue story work:
What I mean is that this way of judging entire regions, religions and classes by polls and current electoral maps inevitably does violence to historical truth.
Here's a good example of such abuse using the election of 1896:
The substitution of region for class produces many distortions, but the worst is the treatment of the pitched electoral battle of 1896, in which Populists and Democrats united behind William Jennings Bryan while eastern industry backed William McKinley. Seen through the lenses of class conflict, that election was the precise opposite of today's red-blue contests, with the South and the Great Plains on fire for reform rather than conservatism. Viewed through the Retro-Metro prism, however, there is perfect continuity. In this view, Bryan was no progressive but just another fundie who spoke for ''America's major extraction industry: agriculture,'' while McKinley, by serving the needs of big business, stood squarely in the Metro tradition, the line that was to yield ''our present urban, suburban, eclectic, multiethnic, multireligious and multigendered society.''
This is why the Retro v. Metro book needed more historians and fewer number-crunchers. Frank also reviews David Lebedoff's The Uncivil War, which various bloggers have been promoting of late. It's also on my deak, awaiting a read. Anyway, think about the larger meaning of Daschle's defeat and ask yourself what it tells us about the Red v. Blue debate. Comments welcome.