What's the Matter with Kansas?

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I began reading this in April, long before the shooting of Dr. Tiller in Wichita. I had been wanting to read it for quite a long time, and it just happened to be one of the books that I wanted to read that wasn't already checked out of the library.

Although I read the chapters related to abortion back in April, it's still surprising to think about some of the things that Mr. Frank stated about Kansas, such as:

Most important, Kansas was traditionally ahead of the crowd on women's rights. Women's suffrage was first proposed here in 1867 and achieved in full in 1912, and Kansas was one of the handful of states that had reformed its abortion laws even before the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. (p. 89-90)
Today, given what I've heard about Kansas on the news in the past 15 plus years, I wouldn't have thought that Kansas was one of those states. And, yes, George Tiller is mentioned (twice) in the book.
In later years the state's largest city, Wichita, gained the dubious distinction of being the only place in the region where a woman could receive a late-term abortion, at a clinic operated by a doctor named George Tiller. As the enrages still like to say, Kansas was "the abortion capital of the nation." (p. 90)
The push that started Kansas hurtling down the crevasse of reaction was provided by Operation Rescue, the national pro-life group famous for its aggressive tactics against abortion clinics. They called it the Summer of Mercy; the plan was to commit acts of civil disobedience all across the city of Wichita in July 1991, just as the organization's followers had done in Atlanta in 1988 and Los Angeles in 1990. Wichita was to be different, though. Here you had Tiller's clinic situated among a population that is world-famous for its spiritual enthusiasm. The protesters meant to make this contradiction manifest--to force one aspect of the Kansas idenity to clash with another--to set up a conflict so unresolvable that everyone in the state would eventually have to choose up sides and join the fight. (p. 91-2)
Prior to Dr. Tiller's murder/assassination, I thought this book was an excellent examination of 2004 Red State America but wasn't quite sure of its relevancy in 2009 and beyond. Because after the 2008 election, the Republican party has been losing numbers steadily. Granted, this could change...maybe, some day? But probably isn't likely given the GOP's demographics. But after Dr. Tiller's murder/assassination, I think it's clear that Thomas Frank wrote an excellent book on what is gradually becoming a fringe demographic.

Here's Thomas Frank on The Daily Show in November of 2004 promoting the book:
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Gosh, Jon Stewart looks SO much younger!


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