Bipolar America

From The New York Times:

Kinsley-Noah-popupThomas Frank is the thinking person’s Michael Moore. If Moore, the left-wing filmmaker, had Frank’s Ph.D. (in history from the University of Chicago), he might produce books like this one and Frank’s previous best seller, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” As you can tell from its ham-fisted title, “Pity the Billionaire” is not the world’s most subtle political critique. But subtlety isn’t everything. Frank’s best moments come when his contempt boils over and his inner grouch is released. This book is Frank’s interpretation of developments since “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” was published eight years ago. Frank’s thesis here is basically that the thesis of the old book has been confirmed. He will not persuade anybody who does not already buy the Tom Frank line. But those who do (as I do, more or less) will enjoy a very good time having their predispositions massaged.

Frank sometimes writes in an arch voice that seemed familiar when I first encountered it but that I couldn’t place. Then I read in his book-jacket bio that he writes for Harper’s Magazine, and I thought, “Zounds, Watson, the man may have Lapham’s Disease.” The symptoms of this malady, named after the longtime editor of Harper’s, Lewis H. Lapham (now of Lapham’s Quarterly), include an elevated, orotund, deeply ironic prose style that, in severe cases, reveals almost nothing about what the topic is or what the author wishes to say about it except for a general sense of superiority to everyone and everything around. Fortunately, Frank’s case is very mild. What he retains is a healthy refusal to be intimidated by charges of “elitism.” He’s not afraid to give his chapters titles like “Mimesis.” (I looked it up. It’s a good joke.) He says of some right-wing nut who enjoyed 15 seconds of YouTube fame that he possessed “an understanding of German history that bordered on complete fantasy.” His message to liberals is: Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t be so defensive! The other side (Republicans, financiers, business executives, billionaires) has most of the economic — and therefore political — power. Today’s conservatives wield reverse snobbery as a weapon, accusing liberals of sins like living on the East or West Coast. Frank mocks conservatives’ claims that they are victims of an all-powerful liberal establishment. He calls this “tearful weepy-woo.”

More here.