There are times in life when four aces is a tough hand to hold.

Common themes on this public policy forum include poverty and its causes and cures, school failure and related discipline matters, health problems and the difficulty understanding why these conditions remain so widespread in this great nation and commonwealth.  I invite you to temporarily suspend your preconceived notions and examine some hard data that upset some of mine.

My quick summary is not doing this work justice but this is a blog, not the New Yorker.

More than twenty years ago two researchers on opposite sides of the country were feeling their way toward explaining strong correlations they observed between childhood experiences and later physical diseases.  One noted that people who dropped out of obesity treatment were often sex abuse victims.  A collaborative study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente.  About 17,000 people were asked to fill out a simple 10-question survey on various adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and then the results were correlated with their health records.

Here, take the test yourself.

The results were astounding.  Adults who had high ACE scores also were substantially more likely to have – decades later — a number of health problems up to and including early death. People with a score of six or more were potentially looking at lifespans of 20 fewer years.  From the summary I linked:  “Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.”

It was widely known that children who were physically or sexually abused were more likely to become offenders themselves, and the concept of psychosomatic illness is ancient.  We’ve long talked about the cycle of poverty.  But here was hard proof in a simple and easy to replicate study.  It then led to brain studies that discovered that trauma and the resulting floods of cortisol and adrenaline actually change physical brain structures.  The how is becoming clearer.

This initial group was not a low-income population.  Heart disease, depression, family violence, drugs and learning problems are not limited to poor neighborhoods.  But the work has sparked a slowly spreading revolution in education and social services.

Consider the implications of simply changing the question “What is wrong with this child?” to “What has happened to this child?”  When you make that mental shift, does it change the way you think about the argument over long suspensions for primary school students with control issues?  Do you really think sitting out of school for a long period (unsupervised) is going to change anything?  Do you worry a little bit more about the impact on a child of a being evicted a series of times?  Are you a bit more interested in providing Medicaid to the whole family instead of just the children?

Source: CDC

Monday morning I had a chance to see a one-hour film on this research and the changes it has inspired.  “Resilience” is still not in general release but I think you can see it here.  As the title implies a high ACE scores can be overcome but the key is usually the right kind of help in a supportive environment, the kind of support which is far less common in those low income populations.

Divorce, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and even sexual abuse can happen in any family.  But add in a neighborhood where gunfire is regularly heard, violent death can sweep away a sibling or friend, many parents are in jail, and the police are viewed as enemies and the concept of toxic stress gets clearer.   Schools, the police and courts, the health care system – all need to understand the role of toxic stress and become “trauma informed” in their responses.  This does not mean do not respond at all.

As a physician in the film explains, if a child with learning problems due to trauma is treated as if she has an attention deficit problem, the standard stimulant drug regime can worsen the problem.  An ACE score of four or more increases the incidence of learning problems by 32 times.  Add in the financial incentives to dose a whole generation with Ritalin and don’t be surprised by what you see.

The challenge of course is what do we do about this?  I think the “revolution” is on a slow roll because the solutions are hardly simple or inexpensive.   Suspending a child for acting out is so much simpler than family therapy.  The War on Poverty is a stalemate at best. So far nobody has found a way to reverse the trend of single parenthood and too few understand it as tragic. Don’t run out and give the ACE test to a thousand kids unless you are ready to face the hundreds of real abuse allegations you find.  (The ACE test I linked above is the research tool, not a screening tool.)

This does double underline the importance of prevention.  Home visitation programs like those conducted by Families Forward (I’m on its board) are directly aimed at helping low-income parents reduce the stress in their households, so the children can be better prepared for success in school. Mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs are doing their work.  Local child abuse prevention programs are now focused on this research.  This was all going on before the ACEs study with plenty of success.

But the ACEs study and two decades of follow-up have demonstrated a firm link to physical disease, not just social problems, presenting decades later.   All of us, parents and caregivers and policymakers, need to fully absorb the fact that children are not naturally resilient and expecting them to “suck it up” and “get over it” and simply avoid “bad choices” by themselves is now proven folly.

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15 responses to “Being Dealt A Losing Hand That Lingers”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    In the early 1980’s, I read a long article in the Washington Post (perhaps it was in the Washington Post Magazine that came out once a week). It was written by a black woman. She had just returned for the first time in several decades to visit the Washington DC all black neighborhood where she had grown up in the 1950’s. She remembered a poor but happy neighborhood – kids playing in the streets, neighbors helping one another, folks partying outside on the weekends in the summer, or just sitting outside on their front porches, neigborly like, waving at their world passing by.

    “We were poor, but happy and safe there, a good place to grow up,” she remembered.

    But, on her return, more than 20 years later, she found, where all that safety and happiness had been in the 1950s, only locked doors and closed window shades amid rampant crime, desolation, and fear. Most residents were simply too afraid to go outside. The scene shocked and saddened her.

    I sense that that scene of desolation is far more common today than ever before. And that it afflicts far more neighborhoods – urban, suburban, and rural – where all sorts of Americans try to live happily, but can’t find what they seek. And that we see the resultant damage everywhere now.

    1. Andrew Roesell Avatar
      Andrew Roesell

      Dear Reed,

      I agree that things have not always been this bad, and indeed were much better than now. I also am very skeptical of the social sciences, particularly in this age of “Postmodernism.” Many things were much better before “the experts” were unleashed. Another “rampant social problem” to use the current lingo is the extreme sense of loneliness and anomie. No wonder suicides have increased so greatly. Many people are just plain miserable. It is very sad. It is also a result of extreme individualism and mobility, cynicism, and loss of roots and politically inspired bitterness. We have “killers of the spirit” all around us, and the result is despair.



  2. CleanAir&Water Avatar

    Twenty plus years ago a fellow graduate of UPenn went into an elementary classroom in a poor section of Philadelphia and promised each and every child in that room that if they could study and get into college he would pay their way. What he found out shocked him

    By the time these kids were in high school each and every one of them had seen a family member, friend or neighbor shot. Going to college was pretty far down their list of things to worry about.

    I am not sure what became of the program but it was lesson in what equal opportunity actually means. It is complicated problem and there is no silver bullet … but for us not to try is pretty dumb. How can we expect these children to actually succeed?

  3. Steve, I totally agree that if a child is exposed to various pathological behaviors he or she will be more likely to engage in those pathological behaviors him/herself. To a significant degree, those behaviors do perpetuate themselves from generation to generation. I don’t think many people would dispute that. But….

    (1) Exposure is not destiny. Many people do not become victims of their environment. They rise above their circumstances. How do we account for those cases, and what can we learn from them?

    (2) As you rightly observe, pathological and self-defeating behaviors are not limited to low-income people. There is nothing intrinsic to the condition of material poverty that makes a person more likely to commit violence, be abusive to family members, have out-of-wedlock births, engage in substance abuse, and drop out of high school, etc.

    (3) The critique of inter-generational poverty proffered by the Left places the blame on income inequality and structural racism, etc. and removes moral agency from poor people themselves. (I’m not saying that you do, I’m saying that the Left does.) Many of the Left’s proposed remedies for the social pathologies of poverty are thus totally misguided.

    (4) Perhaps a more therapeutic approach to kids who misbehave in school is called for. But let’s not forget the kids, who often come from equally challenging environments, whose educations are disrupted by bad behavior. They deserve our compassion and consideration, too.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    Soon to be Senator Corey Stewart has promised to address these issues just after his “full employment through Confederate statue erection” program is funded, launched and underway. This program will provide excellent career opportunities and promote physical fitness as a statue of a Confederate soldier is erected on every street corner in America. As Stewart said, “If the ancient Chinese can build a Terracotta Army America can re-build an army of Johnny Rebs.” When asked why a guy born and raised in Duluth, MN would have such a fascination with Confederate statues and flags he responded, “I like losers. Always have. Always will.”

    Steve – you are playing three dimensional chess while politicians like Corey Stewart are playing knuckles*.

    * – Knuckles is the world’s stupidest game where two players separately cut a deck of playing cards. The player who draws the higher card then takes the deck and smacks the other player on the knuckles with it. The game continues until one player dies from blood loss.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    DJ – Knuckles should become the official pastime for us in the Lincoln wing of the Grand Old Party….with all this time on our hands now.

    JIM – many points and I may hold back while others weigh in. First, you blew past one of the main points that ACEs lead to actual physical illnesses, not just social problems. Being chronically sick of course adds to financial stress.

    Yes (on 1), a strong support network can and does help create “resilience” and allow people to go on to wonderful lives after such a troubled childhood. That fits perfectly with Reed’s point. This really is not about poverty, per se, it is about the destruction of the family and the rise of drugs and violence and perhaps the weakening of institutions like the church. But poverty is surely a factor in adding to the toxic stress and indications of poverty (food insecurity) are on the ACE list.

    And yes (on 3) this does interfere with the popular narrative on the left and can point to other solutions (which should be more to your liking) like strengthening families, getting parents to engage with the kids and encouraging healthy lifestyles. I like the home visiting model because it is the “teach them to fish rather than give them a fish” approach.

  6. CrazyJD Avatar

    I’m very pleased that discussion of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience, in case you missed it) score is finally making its way into the general discussion on blogs. The recent Virginia Chief Justice’s seminar for criminal lawyers had this on the program by way of someone who did manage to make her out of her “destiny”, Dr. Allison Sampson-Jackson. Her story is interesting, and I commend it to your reading/viewing

    And she’s right here in Richmond.

    Yes, Steve, it is definitely about physical illness. What Sampson-Jackson and others seem to be saying is that the physical illness, including PTSD et. al. has an impact on criminal offending.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Bottom Line: Anyone who thinks Public Schools or Private Schools or voucher schools can FIX these issues needs some e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n of their own!

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Does anybody here remember this stupid ass book?

    “The New York Times bestseller, praised as “hilariously funny . . . the only way to understand why so many Americans have decided to vote against their own economic and political interests” (Molly Ivins)

    Hailed as “dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic” (Chicago Tribune), “very funny and very painful” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “in a different league from most political books” (The New York Observer), What’s the Matter with Kansas? unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas-a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation’s most eager participants in the culture wars. Charting what he calls the “thirty-year backlash”-the popular revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment-Frank reveals how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans.

    A brilliant analysis-and funny to boot-What’s the Matter with Kansas? is a vivid portrait of an upside-down world where blue-collar patriots recite the Pledge while they strangle their life chances; where small farmers cast their votes for a Wall Street order that will eventually push them off their land; and where a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs has managed to convince the country that it speaks on behalf of the People.”

    Remember all those true believers back then? Were you one of them????


    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I hoped this comment on the book “What is the Matter with Kansas” would generate discussion. But there was nary a peep.

      For me, the great wonder of the book What is the Matter with Kansas is that it is surely among the most important (and evil) books written in the past 20 years. Its importance arose NOT out of the fact that it was a good book at telling us about its purported subject. Rather it tells us much about the political movement that it inflamed to the point of now destroying itself, the party of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and of those late night talk show hosts, comedians, and Hollywood types spewing out vitriol and poison. And the hatred pumped onto our society daily by mainstream and social media.

      In my view, this poisoning of our political system went on steroids during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination proceedings spearheaded by Ted Kennedy and his little sidekick Joe Biden. And it escalated after Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole from Kansas following Clinton’s Sex-Capades with a White House intern in the Oval Office that kicked off his own impeachment proceedings. And it escalated further with George Bush’s razor thin and fiercely contested victory over Al Gore in the 2000 election. This kicked off now chronic and toxic year round battle by the Democratic party to overturn fair elections by conduct, including violence, that continues to this day. By violence, I refer to conduct such as we witnessed recently in downtown Charlottesville, and on the Grounds of the University of Virginia.

      But, it was during the first term of the “W” Bush Administration that one party of American leaders began in earnest to laugh at, and make fun of, another very large segment of the American population in a vicious, toxic and overtly racist way. Their targets were “the Rubes living in Flyover Country.” This 21st century nastiness birthed our modern understanding of the word DEPLORABLES. The way it was used Hilary Clinton, the Democratic nominee running for president, to describe half of the American people, those who did not agree with her policies.

      This slur by Hilary Clinton marks the high point, and now the start of an ongoing fall and collapse of the PROGRESSIVE movement, one that had struggled back during the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century to escape the tarnish that then covered the failed word LIBERAL. This slur by Hilary Clinton was also a high point of hatred that had marinated with George Bush and has now morphed into the current hated of Donald Trump.

      Any corruption so big in any culture will have far ranging affects on seemingly unrelated parts of our culture. It is just this sort of hatred and arrogance against Kansas that can cause any political movement to fall into the sad and destructive place the progressives are in now, one that destroys their own culture and children. Like it tried to destroy Kansas. And its why we have problems like this one earlier discussed on this blog, wherein I said:

      “Jim of course raises some very important general questions here that need to be asked of all public universities that embark on costly and inherently speculative research ventures. These questions and issues raised are not meant to oppose blindly any such ventures but instead to consent and pay for such ventures with public monies only after insuring that they be done right.

      In that spirit I have copied in below an exchange between myself and Izzo here back on March 12, 2018.

      Reed Fawell 3rd says.

      “Very well said. There are great truths in what you say. I would register caution, however, in reducing admissions standards to the point of harming the quality of education in an institution for all concerned. As others here have pointed out, there are schools for every kid in Virginia, save for those on the lower half of the academic talent scale. The fact that one half of Virginia’s population is not only under-served, but is routinely ripped off, insulted, ignored and shamed is immoral and a disgrace.

      But so is reducing admissions standards to set quotas based on the color of someone’s skin. Sending kids to schools where they cannot succeed, or where the odds against success are stacked against them, is also immoral. Making them or others pay for that immorality doubles the crime. We see the harm done by these pernicious policies of social engineering played out every day. However unfortunate, SAT scores are highly predictive of success in particular institutions. This has been proven time and again. A swing of a 100 points far more often than not carries with it enormous irremediable consequence, as to the narrow bundle of qualities needed to succeed in the higher realms of pure academic achievement. Just like most every other demanding field of endeavor has its own bundle of specialized talents.

      Thirdly, research should not be allowed to impair education in the slightest. Now it impairs education grievously in most first tier universities. That too is an immoral disgrace. Not because research is bad. In fact it is critically important. But because our corrupt character as humans allow research to eat education of students alive in most of our elite universities today.

      Lets put some flesh on the bare bones of my above assertion.

      As well documented on this blog, today’s tragedy in elite higher education hangs between two central pillars of dysfunction – research and teaching. Today’s system of higher education forces research to war against teaching. As a result, the great bulk of money raised by, and spend on, our elite public universities fail to benefit the education of their students. Hence much of the vast sums of money ponied up by students, their parents, and taxpayers is wasted or at best spent in highly ineffective and unfair ways.

      As a direct consequence, Higher Education fails to educate the vast majority of elite students, whether it be in terms of any verifiable results, and/or in improving the quality of the teaching they receive in the classroom, and/or in the amount of time that highly competent teachers devote to teaching them, and/or to increasing the quality and substance of the subject matter being taught students.

      In short, what elite Virginia education needs is better teachers empowered and committed to spending vastly more of their time and resources to personally teaching great and rigorous courses to willing and able students under a teaching regime where excellence is demanded on the part of teachers and students. And where results are verified. And consequences are rendered for failure.

      Why these failures in educating the great majority of our elite students? And why is it that the more money we spend, the less education most our elite students get? Again it is the war between teaching and research.

      Research inflates the status of professors. It drives up their pay, reputation, security and tenure. Thanks to ill-conceived rankings based on false values, this research also drives up the status and prestige of their university. This drives professors and universities to do ever more research, irrespective of the quality of its outcome, and to do ever less teaching that drives down their status, power, and salary.

      These powerful forces, working in combination, also breed junk research that undermines good science. And it forces universities to subsidize out of its own pocket ever more research. Since the cost of most research far exceeds the revenues it generates, this drives up the cost of tuition, while it drives down the quality of the teaching of students as the university diverts their tuition monies from paying teachers to paying research costs for ever more equipment, labs or researchers salaries. This is a death spiral. It forces costs ever higher. Meanwhile it drains ever more funds away from teaching. And the adverse consequences are cumulative, spiraling outward. For example, the death spiral forces ever more students to saddle themselves with ever more debt to feed the beast they keep trying to ride to get a degree whose value declines year by year. These death spirals always end in the collapse of the system. Why? Because the system operates on a lie. It is a Ponzi scheme. The lie is the asserting that elite students are paying these high and ever rising tuition costs in return of their own world class education.

      While is this a lie? Where is the proof. Consider this contrast professors:

      Teaching deflates the status of professors. Teaching drives down their pay, reputation, security and tenure. And, as tenure and tenure track professors at elite institutions flee teaching for research, the elite universities are forced to hire more and more low wage and low benefit, short-term teachers to teach ever more students in ever fewer classrooms, for cost efficiencies at the expense of learning. This forces these low wage low security teachers into a nomadic existence, often traveling between universities weekly, to earn enough to live on.

      This also puts these teachers increasingly at the mercy of student evaluations. Grades inflate and junk courses spread as demands for study, testing and learning all plummet. And, as tenured and tenured track professors flee the elite classrooms, entertainment venues spread throughout the classrooms and campuses of elite universities to fill the vast gaps of empty time that open in the students’ day, given the lack of serious resources and energy and demands then devoted to teaching. Here we see binge drinking, partying and sex hook ups, and students plunging into virtual realities. This breeds bad lifestyles in students, causing them harms of all kinds, damage done to them at universities that can easily last a lifetime, as our universities strip their students of their culture, education and character.

      Thus, the harm spreads and compounds as research and teaching war with one another. And, all involved suffer, save for the few elite who run this system at the expense of everyone else as costs go through the roof to keep this Ponzi scheme running to enrich those few rulers.

      But why should we be surprised. Institutions and the people who run them without accountability can never be trusted. This is particularly true for people who act in secret while they refuse to be held accountable.


      To this comment IZZO replied:

      A lot of good comments here. I think public higher education should not have been instituted in the way it was in the U.S., with public universities being directly subsidized by the state. I think it should have been done more along the lines of a TAG system for public and private, perhaps similar to the way the UK system works, with the grant going to the individual. I don’t see the current system changing, though.

      I also agree that the role of non-profits needs to be looked at in healthcare and higher education. In healthcare, I think non-profit status is leading to reduced competition as these non-profit behemoths squelch competition in their regions with their preferred tax status. In higher education, endowments compound untaxed at institutions where it is a stretch to say the non-profit status actually serves the public good (think Princeton and its $22+B endowment for about 8K students).

      Healthcare and higher education come together in large universities. As an example, Jim cites UVA $8.6B endowment in the article. I’m sure many would like to think this all came from generous private sector donors, but my estimate would be at least 30% of it actually came from what were “quasi-endowments” originating on the health care side. (The percentage of VCU’s $1.6B endowment originating from the health care side is probably well over 50%. Ever wonder why VCU has a significantly larger endowment than Virginia Tech or why VT wanted to create a medical school/health system?) So a non-profit hospital has actually turned a profit based on patient fees (private insurance, medicare, medicaid, out of pocket), and the money is now controlled by the administration and the Board of Visitors. And as indicated before, a lot of it it accumulates through compounded tax-free growth.

      One more note. The public/private distinction is already a fallacy. Private schools receive public benefits from 1) tax exempt status 2) government grants for research, etc. and 3) subsidized student grants and loans. If you include all of this, Princeton receives 10X the public benefit of the average public school.

      To IZZO’s comment, I Reed Fawell 3rd replied:

      These are very insightful comments Izzo. For example:

      The hospital connection, the milking of “patient fees (private insurance, medicare, medicaid, out of pocket)” that you brought to light earlier, has not received the prominence and scrutiny that it has long deserved. It is yet another corruption hidden within a thoroughly corrupt system. Imagine, it is incredible, but also true that university health care is as corrupt in its our way and means as Division 1 university basketball that is riddled with corruption.

      Your other comments are also highly significant. They puncture the grand myth that the “Ivies” are private institutions when in fact their vast and ever growing wealth, bloated now to obscene proportions, more and more today give them monopolistic power and unassailable financial advantage, over the entire system of American higher education with ever more power and advantage built on the backs of taxpayers and thoroughly corrupt public policies enacted and maintained by their own elite graduates who pull the levers of power, hand out public monies of this nation, and exempt it from taxation for the benefit of their alma maters.

      Of course, as you point out, this also applies to non-profits such as Inova. Hence the joint venture of Inova / UVa medical center in Northern Virginia is designed to be a cash cow crony monopoly built out of crony capitalism of the worst sort, posing as a great savior working in the public interests. This sounds harsh. It is and it is well deserved. In life one can never separate ways and means from ends. All three, working in collusion, will inevitably corrupt the result, and end up corrupting that end absolutely. For example, the long term chronic problem of infections of patients at UVA hospital.”

      Yes, my friends, hatred works like an infectious disease that spreads throughout a society until it destroys the body altogether, thus itself too.


  9. Reed, I’ve been distracted by age-related deterioration myself lately so missed until now your comments (6/16) on “What Is The Matter With Kansas?,” a book I also remember (for its humor as well as its message). As I recall that came out during the Bush-Kerry election campaign, the same timeframe you attribute to the birth of “the Rubes Living In Flyover Country,” later the “Basket Of Deplorables,” nastiness. You asked, “Remember all those true believers back then? Were you one of them?”

    I suppose I was. We all were, in that age of innocence when small government and economic conservatism was what defined the Republican Party and “culture-war” issues were something better left to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and their “moral majority.” I thought Thomas Frank’s “What Is The Matter With Kansas?” did a decent job of pointing out the increasing importance of the “working class” right within the Republican Party, attracted to the GOP not by religion but by a broad array of “culture war” issues notwithstanding Republican hostility to policies in the economic best interest of low wage earners. I thought he also made the point that the Democrats’ increasingly “elitist” and condescending attitude only accelerated their departure. And so, as much as any academic writing more than a decade ago, Frank seems to have correctly anticipated the rise of populist conservatism and the Trump phenomenon. He has, by the way, written a new book called “Listen, Liberal,” chastising mainstream (that is, non-Sanders) Democrats for failing to do anything serious about income inequality when they had the chance — in other words, their elitist ideas failed to yield practical results for the people they claimed to champion.

    But you also say Frank’s earlier book is “is surely among the most important (and evil) books written in the past 20 years.” Evil? I’d have expected you’d have been intrigued by it when published, even moreso with benefit of hindsight. As you say, the book “tells us much about the political movement it inflamed to the point of now destroying itself” — but the “poisoning of our political system” (you mention the Thomas nomination but I believe the Bork proceedings were just as bad and set the precedent) doesn’t seem to me to be a consequence of the book so much as the book describes how the Democratic Party had already failed its own constituents in Kansas.

    As for your exchange with Izzo, that was enlightening, particularly as to the “non-profit” hospital profits diverted into academic pockets. Another windfall for the elites?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Very interesting and useful comment, Arbar –

      I believe it’s perhaps the most important book in the last 20 years because I believe the book kick-started then fueled many of the bad habits and characteristics of 21st century modern progressives. It empowered them to become true believers and demagogues and operatives, those who made it their bible and anthem, the manifesto that carried them “over the top” into the own version of derangement, in lieu of the Kansas voter who now in hindsight seems to have then far wiser than they. That of course, is my subjective opinion.

      In my view, the book was for the new 21st century progressive the perfect projection, creating a mirror image of themselves, something for progressives to fall in love with, themselves.

      Hence, those early 21st century progressives became the ONES THEY HAD BEEN WAITING FOR.

      As you suggest, I was wrong about the date of publishing, it was during the Kerry Campaign for President. And I agree with you on Bork. The battle changed a whole hell of a lot, including setting the stage for Clarence Thomas battle and much less in the country, including judge selection.

  10. Interesting perspective in this book. I agree it provided some “progressives” with ammunition to fight back against the the budget-cutters and in the process “empowered them to become true believers and demagogues and operatives.” But what I also remember was Frank’s clear delineation of changes happening within the conservative movement.

    As a college Republican in the WF Buckley tradition, a mix of Fred Hayek and Ayn Rand and smart alec college kid, we could not imagine a blue-collar oil rigger wanting to be “one of us.” Leave-me-alone Libertarian maybe, free-love and alternative music maybe; but not per se anti-social-safety-net, anti-labor, “moral majority.” We debated the same cultural issues that are out there today – contraception and abortion, gay acceptance, expanded health care, equal treatment of races and genders – and the mix of who was on what side of what issue was ever shifting; I just don’t recall debating these from a conservative or progressive point of view. Only when Johnson tried to co-opt these cultural issues for the Democratic Party with his Great Society and draft kids to fight in Vietnam at the same time do I recall a serious political backlash that became identifiably Republican — and that of course gave us Nixon. Then, as you know, darned little of the Great Society was ever repealed or even amended and the fighting in Vietnam went on — which gave us 1968; but that’s another story!

    I’m mulling over this because it was Frank’s book that first drove home to me the notion that the Republican Party’s future at the State and local level depended on whether it could and would attract support not only on fiscal but also on cultural grounds: Right-to-life appealing to Catholics and fundamentalist Christians; right-to-work appealing to that Libertarian streak in workers to reject being made to pay union dues; moral majority appeals to fears of social change; authoritarian reaction to strident black assertiveness — these could outweigh the old fiscal-conservative alignments. I remember thinking, maybe there was hope for the Republican Party after all.

    And while I was in law school, Virginia proceeded to become the “Southern realignment” test case. As I recall Godwin had backed Lyndon Johnson for President and was unpopular with conservative Democrats, but won anyway with strong black support. Then the Republicans finally won the Governor’s race with Holton, defeating the badly divided Democrats; then Mills Godwin ran for re-election but switched parties to run, successfully, as a Republican and barely squeaked by Henry Howell. The Democrats may have lost with Howell, a populist, but the Byrd years were clearly over and the Democrats (guided by Howell’s example and the Spong Commission) set out to become the liberal party on the Virginia spectrum. Godwin as a transitional governor was no arch conservative either; he abandoned Byrd’s pay-as-you-go fiscal policy in Virginia and built up Virginia’s higher education system. Not quite shades of Kansas! But the two party system was now alive in Virginia.

  11. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    This comment I posted in BR at Virginia Is For Psychos on June 18, 2018, also should be posted here to complete the above comments –

    “Earlier I spoke about the book What is the Matter with Kansas, calling it “surely among the most important (and evil) books written in the past 20 years. Its importance arose NOT out of the fact that it was a good book at telling us about its purported subject. Rather it tells us much about the political movement that it inflamed to the point of now destroying itself, the party of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and of those late night talk show hosts, comedians, and Hollywood types spewing out vitriol and poison. And the hatred pumped onto our society daily by mainstream and social media.”

    Last evening I reread the first 76 pages of that hugely influential and popular book “What Happened to Kansas.” Here are the last two paragraphs of the first chapter, characterizing Republican’s generally the kings of anti-social behavior or “psychopathy.” Read and decide for yourself.

    “My aim is to examine the backlash (among Republican’s) from top to bottom—its theorists, its elected officials, and its foot soldiers—and to understand the species of derangement that has brought so many ordinary people to such a self-damaging political extreme. I will do so by focusing on a place where the political shift (to the right) has been dramatic: my home state of Kansas, a reliable hotbed of leftist reform movements a hundred years ago that today ranks among the nation’s most eager audiences for bearers of backlash buncombe. The state’s story, like the long history of the backlash itself, is not one that will reassure the optimistic or silence the cynical. And yet if we are to understand the forces that have pulled us so far to the right, it is to Kansas that we must turn our attention. The high priests of conservatism like to comfort themselves by insisting that it is the free market, that wise and benevolent god, that has ordained all the economic measures they have pressed on America and the world over the last few decades. But in truth it is the carefully cultivated derangement of places like Kansas that has propelled their movement along. It is culture war that gets the goods.

    From the air-conditioned heights of a suburban office complex this may look like a new age of reason, with the Web sites singing each to each, with a mall down the way that every week has miraculously anticipated our subtly shifting tastes, with a global economy whose rich rewards just keep flowing, and with a long parade of rust-free Infinitis purring down the streets of beautifully manicured planned communities. But on closer inspection the country seems more like a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymous Bosch: of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances; of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to afford college or proper health care; of working-class guys in mid-western cities cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform their region into a “rust belt,” will strike people like them blows from which they will never recover.” END QUOTE with words in parenthesis added.)

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