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The Wrecking Crew

Thomas Frank takes on the capitol and a legacy of government as business.

By Theo Lippman Jr. / August 21, 2008



In 2003, historian-journalist Thomas Frank moved from Kansas to the national capital. In 2004, he published a book about his home state, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.”

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It became enormously successful. It thrashed – some say trashed – conservatives and Republicans in the heartland. It was so well done that it drew raves and blurbs from liberals and even George Will, the conservatives’ icon and Washington columnist. Will’s “Kan­­sas” blurb appears on the dust jacket of Frank’s new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.

“Frank is a formidable controversialist – imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience,” wrote Will. (That is from a column in which Will also calls Frank “silly,” “careless,” and “delusional.” Go figure.)

“The Wrecking Crew” goes after Washington far more ferociously than Frank had on the heartland. Not only the right (“wingers” he calls them) but also moderates and even some liberals. He rounds up the usual suspects for having sucked the blood out of every presidency after Lyndon Johnson’s.

Republicans Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes get real poundings. So do Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, among influential wingers outside the White House, other members of Congress, appointees to regulatory agencies, and lobbyists for corporations and advocacy organizations, which have grown like kudzu since the Johnson years.

A recent head count of registered lobbyists put them at 35,000. There are many more not registered. “The standard beginning salary for a staffer fresh from Capitol Hill, is $300,000,” Frank writes. Ex-representatives, ex-senators, and elite lawyers get much more.

What could special interests get for such expenses? Plenty.

For example, Frank cites a 2004 Washington Post article stating that a group of the country’s largest companies reportedly paid lobbyists $1.6 million to get a significant change in the tax code. They subsequently saved $100 billion – “which you and I will eventually have to replace in the public treasury,” Frank writes. “These are the wages of conservatism.”

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