This book answers the affirmative to the question, do Americans vote against their material interests because they of socially conservative rhetoric?
I...moreThis book answers the affirmative to the question, do Americans vote against their material interests because they of socially conservative rhetoric?
I don't think there's much doubt that the Republican Party's strategy since Nixon at least has been to combine an economic and fiscal agenda built around reducing regulation and federal spending while simultaneously helping the corporations and wealthy individuals who bankroll their campaigns, while using a socially conservative--read: anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-Christian-America, pro-gun--agenda and that same rich-side-of-town money (buying media exposure) to bring in the votes of the masses that are necessary to win. It has also been remarkable how effective they have been in their agenda of class warfare of the haves on the have-nots, and how Keystone Kops-ishly ineffective they have been at pushing the socially conservative agenda. It's almost comically obvious, and it works.
Frank points out this basic program, then expects us to be aghast. And of course, his mostly well-read liberal readers--most of whom have already figured this strategy out--are aghast, probably already were, and will continue to be.
Frank expects, in a touchingly naive way, that if only the middle-America masses were aware that they were being taken advantage of, they would rise up and try to change things. But a lot of them are aware that they are being taken advantage of; and they nevertheless vote against their material interests. There is a certain admirable nature to this; the hope against hope; the willingness to sacrifice to achieve what you consider to be a noble cause; the willingness to embrace Gomer, as it were. The Democrats' alternative of balanced budgets (and let's not pretend otherwise; since 1980, the Republicans' policy has been borrow and spend, the Democrats' tax and spend, and if given the choice, I think most Americans would choose the latter) and laissez-faire social policy is not, in their minds, better.
So, can false consciousness be overcome in the name of material advantages, to state it in regrettably but at least clear Marxist terms? Probably not, at least not in the near-term. At some point, things will come to a head, if only because the richest 400 families in the US control as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population. At some point, the numbers won't work, and having a job and providing for your children will trump social concerns in the voting booth. But right now the debate remains muddy, and will remain so for a while. Republican/Democratic debates about the overall applicability of Say's Law and whether Keynes's multiplier effect works or not are still too theoretical, even with 10% unemployment, to drive political change.
At any rate, the book is a little bit too cute at times. Frank's agenda is a little too clear, and he makes some dodgy inferences. But the question--at what point would material concerns trump social concerns?--is a live one in American politics right now. It'll be interest to see what the outcome is.(less)