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1 Beaverton Politics- United States Politics
1 Burnside American Studies- Culture Wars

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The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation


The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation Cover




Chapter One

Golconda on the Potomac

The richest county in America isnt in Silicon Valley or some sugarland preserve of Houstons oil kings; it is Loudoun County, Virginia, a fast-growing suburb of Washington, D.C., that is known for swollen suburban homes and white rail fences of the kind that denote “horse country.” The second richest county is Fairfax, Virginia, the next suburb over from Loudoun; the third, sixth, and seventh richest counties are also suburbs of the capital.1 The Washington area has six different Mortons steakhouses to choose from, seven BMW dealerships,2 six Ritz-Carlton installations, 3 three luxury lifestyle magazines, and a Capital Beltway that is essentially an all-hours Mercedes speedway. There are malcontents all over America with a ready explanation for why this is so: Washington is rich because those overpaid federal bureaucrats are battening on the hard work of people like us, gorging themselves on the bounty that the IRS extracts out of the vast heartland. In blog and barbershop alike they rail against big government like its 1979, moaning about meddling feds and cursing the income tax as a crime against nature.

As a way of explaining the stratospheric prosperity of Washington today, however, this old, familiar plaint makes as much sense as attributing the price of stocks to the coming and going of sunspots. After all, it isnt FTC paper pushers who buy the six-thousand-square-foot “estate homes” of Loudoun County, and even the highest-ranking members of Congress drool to behold the fine cars and the vacation chateaus of the people sent to lobby them by, say, the pharmaceutical industry.
The reason our barbershop grumblers dont get it is that their myths dont account for the swarming, thriving fauna that populates the capital today. Conservative Washington is, by and large, unknown territory. The private offices to which it has delegated the nations public business are not included on the tourists map. Its monuments are not marked. Its operations are not well understood outside the city. But Washingtons newfound opulence gives us our first clue as to what those operations entail.
Washington is a strange place under any circumstances. If you happen to come here from the urban Midwest, as I did, the city seems alien and hopelessly unreal. The blue-collar workers who make up a good portion of the population elsewhere in America are a minority in Washington, with lawyers outnumbering machinists, to choose one example, by a factor of twenty-seven to one. There are few rusting factories or empty warehouses in Washingtonand few busy factories or well-stocked warehouses either. The largest manufacturing outfit in town, at least as of the early 1980s, was the Government Printing Of.ce.4 The neighborhood taverns one finds on nearly every street corner in Chicago are almost completely absent, as are the three-.flats that house much of that midwestern metropolis.
While the capital has desperately poor people in abundance, members of the political class have almost no reason to mingle with them. If you stay within the boundaries of the federal colony, you will meet only people like your tidy white-collar self: college graduates wearing ID badges and speaking correct American English. In one residential neighborhood I visited, a full 50 percent of the adult population possess advanced degrees.
The city is a perfect realization of the upper-bracket dream of a white-collar universe, where economies run on the information juggling of the “creative class” and where manufacturing is something done by .filthy brutes in far-off lands. In the hard-hit heartland this fantasy seems so risible as to not require attention. In Washington and its suburbs, howeverwhere there are hundreds of corporate offices but little manufacturingit is thought to be such an apt description of reality, such a pearly pearl of wisdom, that the citys big thinkers return to it again and again. The malls and offices and housing developments of northern Virginia so overwhelmed Joel Garreau, the man on the “cultural revolution” beat at the Washington Post, that in describing them he slipped into the past-tense profundo: the regions “privateenterprise, high-information, high-education, post-Industrial Revolution economy,” he raved in 1991, “made it a model of what American urban areas would be in the twenty-.first century.”5
Washington has boomed before, and its even been proclaimed a model for the world beforemost famously during the thirties and forties, when the federal government looked like the savior of the nation and maybe even of the planet. The city was occupied then by an army of “New Dealers” who were talented, idealistic about the possibilities of government, and youngfar younger than the gray old gentlemen who had previously run the place. Today we naturally think of Washington as a young persons town, thanks to all the fresh-faced interns and aides and paralegals who fill its offices. But in the thirties this was a novel development, made possible by the stock market crash and the Depression, which closed other doors and utterly destroyed the traditional American faith in limited government and benevolent business.
Disabused of the old myths, and unable to get a job, the class of 1933 went to Washington instead of Wall Street. They lived in group houses, drank hard, and threw themselves into building the new regulatory state. Its not a calling that anyone associates with glamour anymore, but excitement and high patriotism are constant themes in the literature of the New Deal period. One account from 1935, for example, described the citys “mood of adventure, the exhilaration of exciting living which the humblest office-holders share with the Brain Trust [the presidents close advisers] as co-workers in the great experimental laboratory set up in their city.”6
The stories of that period always seemed to follow the same pattern: how the bright young man arrived in the city, fresh from law school, where he was put to work immediately on business of the utmost urgency; how he went for days without sleep; how he marveled at the awesome abilities of the people the administration had brought to Washington. I know of none in which the young man came to Washington to get rich. When the New Dealers grew older, of course, they found ample opportunity to pile up the coin, often by guiding business interests through the bureaucracies that they themselves had created.7 But in those early years, when business had failed so spectacularly and when the country looked desperately toWashington for relief, public service became the object of a sort of cult.8
Liberalism was something strong and bold in those days, and making government work was at the very heart of it. This was the period when the United States developed a first-rate bureaucracy, and the famous law professor Felix Frankfurter attributed its appearance to the epochal migration of idealistic youth to the capital (a movement for which Frankfurter was partially responsible). “The ablest of themin striking contrast to what was true thirty years agoare eager for service in government,” he wrote in 1936. “They find satisfaction in work which aims at the public good and which presents problems that challenge the best ability and courage of man.”9
Like all historical myths, the legend of the capable and selfless New Dealer is surely overdrawn. Even so

Product Details

Frank, Thomas
Henry Holt & Company
Political Parties
Political Ideologies - Conservatism & Liberalism
Political Process - Political Parties
Government - U.S. Government
Politics - General
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
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8.00 x 5.25 in

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Related Subjects

» History and Social Science » American Studies » Culture Wars
» History and Social Science » Politics » General
» History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Culture
» History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation Used Trade Paper
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Product details 400 pages Holt McDougal - English 9780805090901 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A no-holds-barred exegesis on the naked cynicism of conservatism in America." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Review" by , "Glorious....Often brilliant....Franks gloom is leavened by an eye for the unexpected and the absurd."
"Review" by , "Well-researched and witty....Provides a powerful liberal antidote to the high-volume rantings of Bill OReilly, Ann Coulter and Fox News."
"Review" by , "Franks gifts as a social observer are on display....His analysis of why there are so many libertarian think tanks in a country with so few libertarians is dead on. In Thomas Frank, the American left has found its own Juvenal."
"Review" by , "Frank offers one damning anecdote after another. The Wrecking Crew explains how cynical conservatives have wrested control of the government by railing against its very existence, all while using federal perches to funnel billions into the pockets of lobbyists and the corporations they represent."
"Review" by , "Tom Frank has hold of something real. The Wrecking Crew can be good, spirited fun. Frank captures a quality of exuberant bullying in those of his conservative subjects he knows well enough to identify individually, rather than categorically."
"Review" by , "Franks sentences inhale and unfurl with a wit and verve...."
"Review" by , "Conservatives in office have made their share of blunders and mistakes, and Frank is at his finest in depicting some of the stunning instances of hypocrisy and idiocy in the period of Republican rule."
"Review" by , "Smart, thoroughly researched, and written with wit and panache."
"Review" by , "A superb follow-up to What's The Matter with Kansas?... Thorough reporting and incisive historical analysis. With genuine outrage and blasts of polemic, but Frank never allows The Wrecking Crew to become just another seething right- or left-wing political tract preaching to the choir."
"Synopsis" by , From the most astute political scoffer since H. L. Mencken, the definitive account of the conservative reign of misrule and corruption.

Hailed as a “hunk of dynamite” (Salon) and celebrated for its “satiric wit” (The New York Times Book Review) and “delighted outrage” (The New Republic), The Wrecking Crew supplies the first and — lacking future fact-finding commissions — probably the only full reckoning of what conservatism has wrought.

Casting his eyes from the Bush administrations final months of plunder to the earliest days of the Republican revolution, Thomas Frank uncovers the deep logic behind the graft and incompetence of conservatives in power. He shows how leaders dedicated to a doctrine of government by entrepreneurship proceeded to sell off the state, channeling the profits to cronies and loyalists. He surveys the federal agencies doomed to failure by the inept and even hostile staff appointed to run them. He charts the practice of wholesale deregulation and the devastating results now clear for all to see. From political scandal to mortgage meltdown, Frank documents the consequences of enshrining the free market as the logic of the state.

As conservatives retreat to lick their wounds and a new administration prepares to undo the years of misgovernment, The Wrecking Crew makes clear the challenges before the nation. A brilliant and audacious stock-taking — now thoroughly revised and updated — this is Franks most revelatory work yet.

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