FREE FALLING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
Lord help me, I think I might be a Democrat. At least I’m quite convinced that I am not a Republican.

Actually, I prefer to think of myself as an independent, but we all know exactly where that will get me. In Kansas, it’ll put me smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

I just finished reading Thomas Frank’s controversial book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” I certainly didn’t buy into everything he writes about politics and economics in the Sunflower State. But I found myself agreeing with much of what he says as he attempts to unravel the mystery of why Kansans would continually align themselves with the Grand Old Party and a philosophy destined to destroy everything they have traditionally stood for.

After all, Frank writes, our state was once the birthplace for defense of the common man, the downtrodden farmer, the mistreated factory worker.

Now, Kansans happily vote like true friends of big business, corporate farming and union-busting politicians while small-town America shrivels and dies a slow death.

I have always questioned whether the two-party system is in the best interest of our country. This year, more than ever, we are a nation divided, and no lip service from speakers at the Republican or Democratic national conventions has changed my thinking.

In fact, this summer’s get-togethers made the rift between parties appear even wider, displayed a brand new level of unmitigated hypocrisy.

The GOP members are aghast that someone running for president would have a foreign-born wife, then loudly praise a convention keynote address by an Austrian-born actor from California, for heaven’s sake.

And now, all we are hearing is which candidate did what during the Vietnam War.

In his book, Frank notes: “Hawkish politicians great and small pose as hardened war veterans, while dovish politicians who are actual war veterans are accused of weakness. Rush Limbaugh, that unwavering scourge of the drug addict, turns out to be one himself…. And yet the suspicions of the rank and file are not aroused.”

Frank refers to the movement to the right in Kansas as “the backlash” against the elitists, the alleged intelligentsia of liberalism.

“This is the basic lie of the backlash, the manipulative strategy that makes the whole senseless parade possible. In all of its rejecting and nay-saying, it resolutely refuses to consider that the assaults on its values, the insults, and the Hollywood sneers are all products of capitalism as surely as are McDonald’s hamburgers and Boeing 737s.”

In my way of thinking, the Republicans are clearly being hypocrites for ranting against the Democratic nominee for being a flip-flopper on the issues, then praising Zell Miller, a Democrat, for changing his mind and supporting the GOP nominee.

They are hypocrites for railing against elitists at Ivy League universities when their own leader is a Yale grad. Is this to say that intelligence is somehow a curse rather than a virtue?

The Web site www.dubyaspeak.com speaks for itself. Witness this gem from our leader spoken Sept. 6 in Poplar Bluff, Mo.: “We got an issue in America. Too many good docs are gettin’ out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their-their love with women all across this country.”

Say, what?

Members of the Right call Democrats liberals, arrogant and stubbornly ignorant of the wishes of the common man. Yet their own leader steadfastly denies any possibility that he may have been wrong about a military action that has cost the lives of more than 1,000 Americans as he stands alongside his equally arrogant secretary of defense and his uber-elitist vice-president-one of the most caustic-tongued national leaders in history.

I imagine I will get an earful from some members of the community, as I have observed on several occasions recently that the most vocal and vitriolic in Kansas are the Republicans.

And, I’ve often wondered just why supporters of the Grand Old Party are so quick to be inflamed by any questioning of their thought processes in their wholehearted support of the GOP platform.

Frank believes he has the answer. He writes that the intensity generated by the conservatives is by design. The Right purposely chooses issues it can’t win: abortion rights, the Ten Commandments in public places, wholesale tax reduction.

What conservatives are after, Frank says is “cultural turmoil, which serves mainly to solidify their base.”

Republicans want to be martyrs for the cause. In essence, the issues they choose to hang their collective hat on must ultimately be decided in courts, not in the legislature. Lawmakers are powerless to make changes, so they rage against the system to keep the hornets’ nest stirred up and the focus of the masses away from the real issues of domestic and foreign policies.

The backlash against liberalism, Frank writes, is where Republican lawmakers “stand on the floor of the senate and shout ‘no’ to it all.”

But, the Democrats are not off the hook when it comes to criticism. Members of their leadership “no longer speak to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and more arrogant by the day,” Frank writes.

On the rare occasion that I choose to discuss politics with anyone, I hear that liberals are the cause of everything that is wrong with America.

But, I would ask these same people, just which historical reform brought to Americans courtesy of the Left would they care to “give back”? Would it be civil rights? Social Security? Medicare? Medicaid? Farm subsidies? Women’s right to vote? Labor unions? Minimum wage? FDIC protection for your bank accounts?

Or how about preservation of national forests, monuments and parks? Should we allow wholesale drilling and mining in the few pristine corners of the country that remain?

Republicans blame the liberal elite. But, just who are these people, and how can they be causing so much grief for Americans when they have virtually no power?

The GOP is solidly in charge of at least two of the three branches of government. Why haven’t things improved?

Supposedly, the Left controls the media, which have been in a downward spiral since the 1960s began. I contend, however, that if mainstream America didn’t watch, or rather demand, the type of entertainment Hollywood is producing, the winds of change would soon blow through the television and movie studios. Money talks.

This year more than ever before, I feel like a man without a candidate, a voter without a party.

As Paul Schrag, editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, recently pointed out, while the two parties sling mud over which candidate for president made the best soldier during a war that happened more than 30 years ago, pacifists in America are left out in the cold with nowhere to turn, no one for whom to vote.

Furthermore, I am unable to buy 100 percent into either major party’s platform. I am against abortions, but I believe if they were to be made illegal without a plan to significantly curtail the number of unwanted pregnancies, the procedures would continue to happen anyway in alleys, unsanitary makeshift clinics and teenage girls’ bathrooms.

I think homosexuality makes no sense from a scientific or religious standpoint, but I don’t believe we need to amend the U.S. Constitution to stop unions that are already illegal in our state.

I have no problem with hunters keeping the deer, pheasant and turkey populations down, but I don’t happen to think the manufacture and sale of assault weapons has anything to do with preserving the rights of sportsmen to keep their shotguns and rifles.

I would appreciate a tax cut as much as the next Kansan, but I recognize that the feel-good rebates we have received in past years have contributed in a large part to the fiscal problems our state has seen lately.

I believe no child should be left behind without an adequate education, but can’t see for the life of me how every student can be expected to perform at the same level of excellence.

Eventually, when Texas, California and New York schools fail to perform, the standardized tests will be “dumbed down,” or the law will be repealed. So, what have we gained for our children?

Where does all this thinking get me? Certainly outside the Republican Party, which engages in a national blame game, and seems to have a mesmerizing effect on Kansas voters, despite its obvious failures.

I, along with Thomas Frank, am mystified by those who follow a party bent on ruining everything it stands for-or once stood. We are contributing to our own destruction at the hands of corporate America, and all the while appearing to be grateful for the opportunity to do it to ourselves.

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