By SEAN QUINTAL
In 2004, Thomas Frank wrote a book entitled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In it, he examined why his home state of Kansas, long a hotbed of progressivism, had developed into a bastion of conservative GOP politics. Why, Frank wondered, did lower- and working-class people so frequently vote against their own self-interest and well-being. Frank concludes that the culture wars allowed the GOP to capture the populist language of social class and to present themselves as the embodiment of working-class anti-elitism. Or more recently, as the slovenly sinister Steve Bannon phrases it, “Politics is downstream from culture.”
Today, we see the Republican Party relying almost exclusively on the same playbook. In 2021, however, it’s called “cancel culture,” and the GOP has come to embrace opposition to it as one of two reasons for the party’s existence (the other being fealty to the deposed Mad King in Mar-A-Lago). Republicans have been peddling lies that President Biden wants to force Americans to eat less meat, or that the government was handing out copies of Vice President Harris’ books to refugees, or that Virginia was eliminating advanced math in schools in pursuit of racial equality, or that “cancel culture” emasculated Mr. Potato Head. All these are lies, yet the GOP and the right wing media machine have repeatedly bellowed them. As Congress debated President Biden’s COVID relief bill, Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, read aloud from a Dr. Suess book to promulgate another lie that the author’s books were being “canceled” by Democrats.
Why do they perennially beat this drum? Because Republicans win elections by scaring the hell out of their voters. They do this by otherizing the opponent: Obama is a socialist Muslim! Hillary is a crooked murderer! Crazy Bernie! The Squad! Unfortunately for the GOP, President Biden is really hard to demonize; the Trump campaign tried every trick in the book in 2020 and failed pretty miserably. More importantly, both the President and his polices are popular with Americans. So instead, the GOP has invented a “cancel culture,” and a “woke mob” to focus on, purely to stoke conservative outrage. Because the last things Republicans want to talk about are the Democrats’ economic initiatives that have proved popular, such as an infrastructure package and a stimulus law that coupled pandemic relief with major expansions of safety-net programs.
But American voters will know the facts. Every Republican recently voted against a COVID relief bill with 70 percent support nationally, according to polling. The GOP ignores the pandemic and pretends something called “cancel culture” is an existential threat to the republic. Republicans prefer to talk about Dr. Seuss and Potato Head toys, because they need to distract from their unpopular, special interest agenda. While Democrats have been putting money in people’s pockets and shots in their arms, Republicans have fought to prevent Americans from getting a pay raise and pushed to cut taxes for multi-millionaires.
This is the turf on which next year’s elections will be fought. Democrats will run on an agenda of competent leadership, vaccinating people, distributing $1,400 relief checks, and rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Republicans will try to enrage white voters with phony controversies about children’s books and red meat.
So “What’s the matter with Kansas” is what’s the matter with California, and what’s the matter with America. The Republican Party chooses to be a force for division and distrust in this country, rather than an institution dedicated to competent and just governance. And that’s a culture that needs to be canceled.
Join the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club on June 2 at 7 p.m. The meeting will focus on local issues related to climate change, and on the local presence of extremist and hate groups. Find the link to join the Zoom meeting on our website www.lamesafoothillsdemocraticclub.com
— Sean Quintal writes on behalf of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club.