Liberal political commentator Thomas Frank delivered a lecture as part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series entitled ‘What’s the Matter With America? Class War and Culture in the New Administration’ on Jan. 26 in Monarch Bay.
Frank’s most recent book, ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas?’ spent weeks on the New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller List.
The first part of Frank’s lecture focused on how the divide between economic classes in America has never been greater.
According to Frank, it was possible in 1980 for blue-collar and white-collar workers to live side by side, distinguished only by their respective tastes. But today he claims that ‘the class divide has been getting worse and worse.’
He cited statistics which show that in 1980, CEOs in this country controlled 20 percent of the national wealth, whereas they now control 40 percent.
According to Frank, the United States has not encountered such social inequality since 1920. In addition, he stated that the level of social inequality present in America is unparalleled in any other modern industrial nation and the American people have not had such little power since five decades ago.
‘It’s like the French Revolution in reverse,’ Frank said. ‘More power to the aristocracy!’
The latter portion of Frank’s lecture concerned conservatives and their mindsets, political opinions and attitudes towards liberals.
In the 2004 presidential election, the poorest county in America was in North Dakota where 78 percent of voters voted for Bush. In the second-poorest county in the nation, located in Nebraska, 81 percent of the residents voted for Bush.
Frank explained that the Republican Party claims to be the party of the victimized.
‘The Republicans tell us they are the party of the disrespected, the downtrodden, the forgotten man … always rising up from below. All claims on the right, in other words, advance from victimhood. … They revel in the fantasy of their own marginalization,’ Frank said.
Frank also said that liberals are often victims of conservative propaganda attacks against them. Many conservatives, according to Frank, ‘believe our culture is the way it is because of the liberals.’
Frank drew a parallel between the muckraking of the early 20th century and the apparent muckraking in modern times.
In the 1930s, muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair wrote about the evils of capitalism and how it was responsible for the corruption of academia, art and culture. Today, according to Frank, the accusations are the same, but ‘liberals’ have replaced ‘capitalists’ as the villains.
‘Our culture and our school and our government are controlled by an overeducated ruling class that is contemptuous of the beliefs of the average man.’ Frank said, as if he himself were conservative.
‘Those who run America, the theory holds, are despicable, self-important show-offs. They are arrogant. They are snobs. They are, in a word, liberal,’ Frank continued.
Frank’s energy and humor enlivened the crowd and kept them firmly in their seats, at least until a fire alarm forced an evacuation from the Student Center.
Frank continued the lecture outside the Student Center until the fire department arrived and gave the OK to go back into the building.
Some felt that the humor that Frank incorporated into his lecture, while entertaining and attention-grabbing, removed focus from the seriousness of his arguments. Others felt that Frank’s claims about what conservatives do were not adequately supported by evidence.
‘I found him disconcerting,’ said Diane Petty, a retired teacher in the audience. ‘I wanted to question a number of things along the way, and I had a hard time believing some things.’
Leslie Huynh, a fourth-year political science and anthropology double major, enjoyed the event and said that her position was ‘reaffirmed’ by Frank’s lecture.
‘I think he went over [his arguments] enough times that the theme of the whole thing he wanted to get across was kind of pounded into us,’ Huynh said.
Regardless of the audience’s political slant, Thomas Frank’s vigorous speaking style proved to be thoroughly entertaining to those on both sides of the aisle.
‘What was good about this [event] was that he provoked me into thinking,’ Petty said. ‘I’m very glad I came.’