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

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

 

 

Excerpt

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

ISBN:
9780805090901
Author:
Frank, Thomas
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company
Subject:
Political Parties
Subject:
Political Ideologies - Conservatism & Liberalism
Subject:
Political Process - Political Parties
Subject:
Government - U.S. Government
Subject:
Politics - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
20090831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
400
Dimensions:
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.

"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 andlacking future fact-finding commissionsprobably 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 stocktakingnow thoroughly revised and updatedthis is Franks most revelatory work yet.

Thomas Frank is the author of Whats the Matter with Kansas? and One Market Under God. The founding editor of The Baffler and a contributing editor at Harpers Magazine, Frank has received a Lannan award and been a guest columnist for The New York Times. He lives in Washington, D.C.

The Wrecking Crew casts back to the early days of the conservative revolution, to what Thomas Frank describes as the rise of a ruling coalition dedicated to dismantling government. But rather than cutting down the big government they claim to hate, conservatives have simply sold it off, deregulating some industries, de-funding others, but always turning public policy into a private-sector bidding war. Washington itself has been remade into a golden landscape of super-wealthy suburbs and gleaming lobbyist headquartersthe wages of government-by-entrepreneurship practiced so outrageously by figures such as Jack Abramoff.

It is no coincidence, Frank argues, that the same politicians who guffaw at the idea of effective government have installed a regime in which incompetence is the rule. Nor will the country easily shake off the consequences of deliberate misgovernment through the usual election remedies. Obsessed with achieving a lasting victory, conservatives have taken pains to enshrine the free market as the permanent creed of state.

"Frank's 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."Michael Lind, The New York Times Book Review
"Frank's 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."Michael Lind, The New York Times Book Review
 
"In his new book, Frank has shifted the focus from the metaphorical Kansas to the real Washington, from the voters to those who governnot just the president and Congress but the lobbyists, government contractors and political operatives who have shaped so much of what has gone wrong in the last eight years. The challenge of writing a book like this is to avoid wearing the reader down with gloom and outrage. Frank acknowledges this problem at the outset, in one of his characteristically glorious sentences: 'We climb to the rooftop, but we cannot find the heights of irony from which we might laugh off the blend of thug and pharisee that is Tom DeLay . . .' Nevertheless from his rooftop, he has met the challenge, often brilliantly. He tempers his rage with bitter sarcasm, and his gloom is leavened by an eye for the unexpected and the absurd."Jon Weiner, Los Angeles Times
 
"Whats the Matter with Kansas? presented red-state voters as having been gulled into voting against their real economic interests by means of dubious cultural appeals. When Obama had to spend a couple of weeks last spring backing away from his explanation of why small-town Pennsylvanians weren't voting for him ('Bittergate'), it looked as if hed got into trouble for channeling Thomas Frank . . . The Wrecking Crew offers another account of conservatives political power: they have built a mighty lobbying apparatus that has taken over Washington and disabled the normal workings of the federal government . . . Washington, as Frank sees it, plays host to a simple clash of interests: money and business on one side, the people on the other. The Wrecking Crew is written in a voice of high derisionmuch more so than the sincere, bewildered What's the Matter with Kansas?and it can be good, spirited fun."Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker
 
“This is the scenario: Conservatives detest big government, so when they come into power they fill federal positions with inept and inexperienced loyalists and then proceed to run up massive deficits. This undermines the government's effectiveness, spurs more privatization, benefits business elites, undercuts liberals and their social programs. This perverse and cynical misuse of American government power is the centerpiece of Thomas Franks stinging new critiqueThe Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. Frank follows his influential best-seller (What's the Matter With Kansas?) with another well-researched and witty evisceration of conservatism, a new book with expectations of huge sales in this election year . . . What the conservatives do while in power is the raison d'etre of The Wrecking Crew and is the strongest portion of the book, especially when Frank examines the Bush administrations rampant use of outside contractors (‘outsourcing) that has taken over many former functions of the federal government . . . Frank also dissects the massive growth industries of conservative fundraising and lobbying by business. Torrents of ready bucks have flooded Washington and led to inevitable scandals and downfalls at the highest levels, from Iran-Contra to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Wrecking Crew paints a contemptuous portrait of conservative governance and provides a powerful liberal antidote to the high-volume rantings of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Fox News."John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 
"There's plenty in Thomas Frank's latest appraisal of right-wing politics to sate the appetites of liberals starved for perspective after eight years of Republican rule in the executive branch of government . . . Wrecking Crew stands as a worthy follow to the pairing of scholarship and analysis Frank exhibited three years ago in his breakout book on the blurring social and economic issues in his home state of Kansas."Steven Giegerich, S

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