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Ain’t Nothing Wrong With Kansas

December 17, 2012

There is a book published during the middle of the George W. Bush years titled “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” The general theme of this book and, as I understand it, much of liberal thought on conservatism, can be summed up with a conversation I had with a professor from The Johnson Graduate School of Management. 

We were at an informal weekend seminar course the professor was conducting. We were eating lunch as a small group of about fifteen, and although I do not remember the exact context in which the discussion began, I will never forget her statement. She had made the assumption that I was of like political mind (as all good liberal educators are wont to do, in my experience), and she was relating an anecdote of her young son’s inquiry into the ignorance of low-income conservatives. I do not remember how old she said he was (although pre-teen comes to mind), but the gist of it was the son asked his mother why the poor farmers in upstate New York were overwhelmingly Republican when it was so clearly in their financial interests to vote Democrat. The professor proceeded to laughingly explain, in a very sincere way, that it was because the farmers all thought they would be rich someday, and they wanted to protect their future interests. This reaction would be ridiculous on its face, not to mention extremely offensive, if it didn’t so aptly reflect the stated beliefs of leading liberal thinkers, as evidenced by the aforementioned best selling book to largely the same effect. So let me take this opportunity to offer a counter perspective. 

The assumption is that poor, rural types who are conservative, to take another quote from our esteemed President, cling to their “religion and guns” at the expense of their economic interests because they are too ignorant to know any better. Further, it is the liberal’s job to break those social prejudices down until one day we can finally realize the great, liberal socialist utopia dreamed of for so long. But what if it is the exact opposite of those assumptions that is the truth?

Ask yourself why it is that conservatives would generally want to make voting more of a responsibility (trying to require crazy things like identification and possibly even a single day in which to vote, among other radical and obviously “racist” ideas) and less of a whimsical right (allowing voting anywhere, by anyone, at anytime, in any way, all in the name of “duty”)? Might it be because the very overly complicated and “nuanced” ideas from the left (to whit, a simplified[!] summary: “Leave it to us and we will provide everything to you from cradle to grave and you will barely have to lift a finger! We will make everybody equal! Hallelujah!”) are in fact appeals to our most base, heartfelt, and unthinking emotions? Might we consider giving those ignorant conservatives the slightest credit for thinking their very personal economic interests are actually better cared for by the self interests of macro free market economic principles as seen by even the most cursory–indeed, the most studied–of glances at history?

The answer is obviously an easy one for me. The liberal ideal is the most populist and basic appeal, that which tells us that if we just leave it to the smart people to run and organize everything (from Stalin’s Commanding Heights, if you will), all will be well for us, the common folk. Whereas the conservative message, the one that relies on millions of little, individual, disconnected, and self – interested (invisible) hands working in unsynchronized harmony to lift all of our lives into higher levels of comfort across all socio-economic, racial, and cultural lines and in all aspects of life, is the one that requires the greater understanding and analysis. You will, of course, decide for yourself which makes the most sense. I only ask you to give a little more credit to the farmers in both upstate New York and mid-west Kansas. Along with everywhere else they may try to cling to the very cultures and economic principles that have provided so much to so many, as maybe there isn’t anything wrong with them at all, if you think about it.