Friday, March 11, 2005

What's the Matter with America?

I’ve been thinking today about a book I read, called, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Written by Thomas Frank, this book is an insightful look into why Republicans have managed to win the votes of the very people their policies screw so manifestly. It’s a great book I highly recommend.

Anyway, Frank coins a term he calls the plen-T-plaint. Unlike complaints, the plen-T-plaint is a gripe that has no fundamental basis, although it certainly has a target. There are all kinds of plen-T-plaints, usually seen in terms of political correctness. A child sues his school district because he was assigned homework for the summer. A woman cries sexual harassment because she is complimented on the color of her sweater. An artist dunks a picture of Jesus in a jar of urine and wants public funding for doing so. As you can no doubt see, these gripes have one thing in common: They’re all examples of liberal outrages. The point of the plen-T-plaint is not to engender discussion, but to get voters riled up and, hopefully, voting Republican.

Are there bona-fide examples of liberal silliness? Unquestionably. However, this silliness is presented not as ludicrous and ignorable, but as a pernicious example of the corrupting influence of liberal philosophy on American society. Liberals have very little influence over the national government, which is solidly controlled by Republicans, and yet to listen to Bill O’Reilly you’d think the US was under the iron Birkenstock of the Berkeley crowd. It’s dishonest and distracting, but it’s a great way to reap a harvest of votes for Republican candidates, isn’t it?

Let’s be honest about these outrages. They mean little, harm almost no one, and affect nothing. However, conservative outrages, which do more harm, receive no attention from the Anne Coulter set. Want to write anti-gay discrimination into the nation’s founding document? Sure! Want to ban the teaching of a scientific theory accepted by every reputable scientist everywhere in the world? No problem! Want to give taxpayer dollars to religious organizations to fund jobs from which many of the taxpayers will be banned? Sign me up! Personally, I find these little crusades much more disturbing than the occasional frivolous lawsuit or a baseless accusation of sexual harassment.

I tend to have a pretty solid faith in humanity, but the plen-T-plaint, and the way it has resonated in modern times, has given that faith a nice solid shake.


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