There are some books you think you have read simply because they've become part of the discourse. Thomas Franks' What's the Matter with Kansas? is one. The caricature of his argument goes something like this: Working class voters are brainwashed into resenting liberal elites who look down up on them and so they vote Republican. What they get for their trouble are conservative policies that make the working class even poorer. As I said, that was a caricature.
Franks' argument is a lot more subtle than that. He says that Kansas has always been a hotbed of rebellion and that many farmers', union and populist movements started out in Kansas. So, he is not surprised that Kansas is at the foreground of the backlash against a world that is leaving them further and further behind. But unlike the populists of the last century, the anti-abortion brigade of the present are focusing on the wrong problem. So, instead of getting a New Deal, they are getting a raw deal.
Which brings me to the title of my post. Obama made a smart and reasoned choice of vice-president: he picked someone who'd complement his weaknesses and have the ability to shepherd bills through Congress -- think of Kennedy choosing LBJ. McCain made an impulsive, reckless choice. It's as if he wants to prove the caricature view of Franks' argument: that all working class Americans need is a folksy culture warrior. What if McCain had made a reasoned choice of vice-president? He could have chosen Mitt Romney -- a moderate, centrist Republican with extensive experience running things and running them successfully.
And the Republican ticket could now be arguing: "Wait a minute. Don't strangle our economic recovery with over-regulation. Elect us so that we can keep a Democratic congress in check." Instead, the Republicans are now litigating Vietnam-era battles over rich war protestors.
P.S.: McCain and Palin are now going around inciting right-wing mobs. If this keeps up, the Kennedy-LBJ parallel will become more uncomfortably true: one commentator likens the atmosphere at Republican rallies now to the atmosphere in Israel before right-wing nut jobs assassinated Yitzhak Rabin for being a "traitor" and "appeaser".