Frank tells this tale at his usual Mencken-esque gallop, though he has more affection for the targets of his comic barbs than did the Great Debunker. When he happens upon a sullen teenager who tells him he's just "drinkin' a beer, thinkin' about Jesus," you sense that Frank would enjoy putting back a few with him. The author's original sensibility may hold the key to a better sort of populist revival, and it always makes him a pleasure to read. But there's very little new in his analysis here. To understand the great backlash of the American culture war, critics would do better to probe the historical fate of evangelicalism itself, whose blind optimism, free-market utopianism, and obsession with "leadership" today verges on the occult — a magical quality it shares with much of the New Age left. For all the ink spilled on the nature of populism in recent years — Frank's included — it's still not clear what distinguishes "people's politics" from whatever religious sensibility melds with it, lending it ethical dimension, historical direction, and heart — for better or worse.
Read the rest of Catherine Tumber's articles at her author page.
Thomas Frank discusses What's the Matter with Kansas? at the Harvard Coop, 1400 Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square on July 28 at 7 p.m.; call (617) 499-2012.
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