05/11/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thomas Frank: Tea Party Movement Reflects Previous Observations On The 'Gravity Of Discontent'

Wall Street Journal columnist and author Thomas Frank ('What's the Matter With Kansas', 'The Wrecking Crew') sends along an observation today about the proclivities of the contemporary "Tea Party" movement -- one that strongly reflects those of the Kansans he once put under a political microscope.

Says Frank: "A few weeks ago, I was reading an account of the tea party movement in the New York Times which pointed out that many of the movement's recruits had suffered in some way during the recent crash and recession. A different account of the surprise Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race ascribed it to a huge swing among working-class voters. All this got me to thinking of something I wrote seven years ago about the most average Americans of them all in 'What's the Matter With Kansas?'"

The pertinent excerpt:

Not too long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers--when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists' furthest imaginings--when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work--you could be damned sure about what would follow.

Not these days. Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: To the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today's Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land and next thing you know they're protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO and there's a good chance they'll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed--unions, antitrust, public ownership--and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.

One of the things that I observed during the 2008 campaign was that Obama's "Bittergate" fiasco revealed that he had something of a grasp on what Frank was saying in Kansas, but he lacked both Frank's intimate understanding of these Americans and his artful way of talking about what animated them politically. Ultimately, that didn't cost him the election. But if he doesn't take a "swing for the fences" approach to financial reform, and create remedies that have a tangible benefit to the large majority of Americans, he could lose more of the country to this lumpen paranoid proletariat.