Political writer and historian Thomas Frank penned What's the Matter with Kansas, a landmark 2004 book that explored blue-collar workers' tendency to vote for conservatives who'd sell them out once they took office. That book set the tone for political punditry in the last presidential election. Frank's new book, The Wrecking Crew, is poised to do the same for this year's.
This time, Frank is tackling the "fantastic misgovernment underway all around me in Washington, DC," where he moved five years ago, he tells the Mercury. Living in DC, he realized seemingly isolated blunders—from the Jack Abramoff scandal to the federal government's disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina—"were all connected," he says. "There wasn't just random misfortune and bad luck."
His book connects the dots, starting back in the post-World War II era, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt flooded DC with "swarms of New Dealers," who set out to do the people's business as best they could. Those folks set up the "liberal state," a state with populist values that can hardly be argued over. "[People] like the prospect of a secure retirement, a guaranteed education for their kids, pure food, clean air, crash-free airplane trips, safe working conditions, and a minimum wage," Frank writes.
Conservatives, however, from right-wing direct-mail "prodigy" Richard Viguerie to Ronald Reagan and both President Bushes, have been systematically dismantling and selling off what the New Dealers built.
Frank details the destruction: "the hollowing out of FEMA, the hiring of people who are incompetent but who are movement loyalists, the departure of everyone to be lobbyists as soon as they can, the privatizing of so many of its operations. All of these things are the product of conservative ideology. This is what conservatives do when they are behind the wheel of the state. And yeah, it fails."
At the same time, there's a certain evil genius at work, as conservatives have built an industry—and become rich!—around setting up government to fail. Frank methodically outlines the years of work that have gone into this, in a book that is at times dense but is overall a must-read for anyone concerned with where this country is headed.