Sunday, February 15, 2009

Useless Film Snob Book Report - The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (Thomas Frank, 2007)

Frank's last book, What's the Matter with Kansas? was one of the most fascinating and interesting political books that I've read. That examination of how the Republican party had convinced many people to vote against their economic interests in favor of fanning the fires of the culture wars was well researched and smartly done. The Wrecking Crew comes off as an extension of the ideas present in that previous book. Since conservatives concocted a majority with their inflammation of cultural issues, it would make since to analyze what they've done since gaining power.

Frank paints a fairly bleak picture, how the conservative movement's cynicism, general dislike of government in general, and their slavish devotion to the idea that the free market will fix everything, was a fairly calculated effort to break government. Conservatives have created a federal government so corrupt and inept that it's created a permanent cynicism in the citizenry that government can do nothing right. To Frank, this was a precise plan meant to disable liberalism's ideas of government as an ally of the people as well as a way to have the market(s) become the central governing factor of this nature. Frank gives a history and analysis of the conservative movement's rise to power, starting with the Reagan's presidency and continuing to the work of George W. Bush's administration. Some of the more egregious acts are but not limited to: naming department secretaries who are often enemies of that department, hiring incompetent and under qualified cronies to important positions, politicizing jobs that were never before, and more broadly, creating a government so inept and deficit-ridden that it ties the hands of its Democratic inheritors. For a liberal, it adds up to a series of events that are crass, cynical, shocking, and yet, not that all surprising to someone who's been paying attention to Republican rule for the last 25 years.

Frank's work is well-researched and in-depth, but it all comes off as a bit too wonkish at times. There is a little too much inside baseball, as dry explanations of Saipan and the Jack Abramoff scandal show. There's also a little bit less interesting stories as What's the Matter with Kansas? The one here that sticks out the most is how the conservative movement has supported some horrendous groups and governments over the years in their defense of "freedom" and free markets. The apartheid government in South Africa, Jonas Savimbi and his brutal, wreckless civil war in Angola, and Central American death squads all received support from Conservative organizations in the past. And yet through despicable actions like these, conservatives have mostly succeeded in creating a government beholden to the free market and corporate interests. Frank is bleak in assessing the future, saying that it will take a immense change in Washington.

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