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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire: A Review, Part I

I’m a huge fan of Thomas Frank. His What’s the Matter With Kansas was absolutely brilliant. Since I discovered that great book, I’ve been following his articles and interviews and eagerly awaiting his new book.  You can just imagine how happy I was when I got the chance to read the proofs of his Pity the Billionaire, a book that analyzes the reasons behind the rise of the Tea Party movement. The book strives to answer the crucial question: how is it possible that the Americans’ response to the global economic crisis that happened as a result of unbridled free market practices led them to form a movement that would defend the free market rather than to a movement that would ask for regulations?

The book, however, turned out to be a massive disappointment. Frank’s trademark wit is gone. Aside from a few forced jokes, the book is written in a plodding, unimaginative style that I had no idea this author was even capable of.

His analysis of the “right renaissance” is also unimpressive. People who have been reading my blog for a while know that I’m no fan of the Tea Party. Still, I have to recognize that Frank is being intellectually dishonest in his characterization of the Tea Partiers. For instance, he blames them for the apocalyptic tone they often adopt and the doomsday scenarios they enjoy generating. This, however, is not a distinctive trait of just the Tea Partiers. It is just as present among the Progressives. The Liberal blogs I read are filled to the brim with endless apocalyptic scenarios. By the way, Slavoj Zizek’s 2009 book is titled Living in the End Times. You don’t get either more apocalyptic or more progressive than that.

Another fault that Frank ascribes to the Tea Partiers is that they erase the class distinctions and see no difference between a share-cropper and a small-business owner. Does this remind you of anything, by any chance? Yes, right you are, the #Occupy movement that lumps everybody who is not a billionaire into the imaginary downtrodden 99%.

Frank then proceeds to blame the Tea Party for its rhetoric of self-pity:

[They] advance their war on the world by means of a tearful weepy-woo. Self-pity has become central in the consciousness of the resurgent Right. Depicting themselves as victimized in any and every sitiation . . . is essential to their self-understanding.

Again, #OWS, anyone? Remember this statement from a prof with no debt, a house of his own and a wonderful life, who wallows in self-pity because his life is so complicated and anxiety devours him? So why do the Tea Partiers get blamed for their weepy-woo while Liberals don’t?

[To be continued. . .]

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7 thoughts on “Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire: A Review, Part I

  1. I think What’s the Matter With Kansas was great fun to read, even though as I read it I understood that what he said was mostly passe. He’s a historian and fan of the New Deal, after all, as so many on the left are. Reaching back farther, being so old and all, I felt he was idealizing a movement that was packed with the usual suspects. And if they could stay out of trouble sufficiently to get cushy jobs and professorships and so on they calmed right down.
    Have you read *The Man Who Loved Children” by Christina Stead? It’s a very odd book, but it captured a certain atmosphere around the people who worked in the Roosevelt administration. I’m sure similar types may now be found working for Obama.
    I just went on The Nation Magazine Cruise and got some insights into progressives that rather surprised me. Not in a debunking way but more an acknowledgment that these people may be idealists but they are also only human. Menschen wie du und ich, as the Germans say.
    As to the Tea Partiers: They are not to be taken seriously. I think we can just write them off, as a matter of fact. Here again, Frank is just too late at the table. It’s like discussing the candidacies for president of Cain and Trump.

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    • You went on The Nation Magazine Cruise??? I feel extremely envious right now. I always wanted to go but they tend to organize them right in the midst of the semester. I’m starting to get heartburn, I’m so envious. 🙂 (In a good way.)

      ” It’s like discussing the candidacies for president of Cain and Trump.”

      – He actually does refer to Cain as the presidential candidate in his book. This is the problem with traditional book publishing, your book becomes outdated long before it hits the market.

      “Have you read *The Man Who Loved Children” by Christina Stead? It’s a very odd book, but it captured a certain atmosphere around the people who worked in the Roosevelt administration.”

      A wonderful book!

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  2. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on it. Nor can I comment much on the Taxed Enough Already folks since I haven’t been in the United States to join or to observe them for several years.

    Still, based on what I have read, it strikes me that the TEA people have some reasonably good ideas, shared by some but far from all in the Republican Party. That may result in another term in office for President Obama. Many of the TEA people appear to be disappointed with the failure of the Republican House of Representatives, for which they are in large measure responsible, to adhere to the notions they hold dear.

    Unless the Federal deficit ceases to grow or at least its rise is halted, and at least some bits of redistributive taxation ideals, apparently held by many other than TEA people seemingly more to the end of stimulating more class conflict than already exists get quashed, I suspect that we are in for a rough ride for the foreseeable future.

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    • “Unless the Federal deficit ceases to grow or at least its rise is halted, and at least some bits of redistributive taxation ideals, apparently held by many other than TEA people seemingly more to the end of stimulating more class conflict than already exists get quashed, I suspect that we are in for a rough ride for the foreseeable future.”

      – Dan Miller: your predictions always seem to come true, which means that we shouldn’t expect anything too positive any time soon. I don’t see an end to the growth of the Federal deficit, to be honest. And I also don’t see people even trying to stop irresponsible borrowing practices.

      Still, let’s hope for the best on the eve of a new year!

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  3. Having lived among Teabaggers for four years up close and personal, I’ve never met one who could articulate any real intelligent opinions on the federal deficit, taxation, the constitution, or the organization of the government. It’s all boiled down to naked, angry rage that there’s a supposed socialist closeted Muslim with brown skin sitting in the Oval Office, gay people having the nerve to walk down the street holding hands, some of them even sporting wedding rings, people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, and people who speak Spanish as their first language holding down jobs and living in the United States.
    Regarding the book: It sounds like perhaps he just misdiagnosed as a right-wing problem what is clearly more a larger American cultural problem?

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