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Thomas Frank
The Wrecking Crew:
How Conservatives Rule

Rick Kleffel © 2008

Metropolitan / Henry Holt & Company
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-8050-7988-3
371 Pages; $25
Publication Date:08-05-2008
Date Reviewed: 09-07-2008

Index: Non-Fiction

Thomas Frank writes from the left but not necessarily just for the left. 'The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule' has as its central theme the perception that conservatives distrust government so deeply, consider it so surely the enemy that they have done their best to destroy it from within. Frank provides persuasive evidence to support his argument and employs powerful prose to make his case. 'The Wrecking Crew' is a damning vision of government undermined by business.

'The Wrecking Crew' works on two levels. On the faith-based, opinion level, it seeks to understand and undermine the core beliefs of what is commonly called "the (neo)-conservative movement." On the fact-based, news-reporting level, it offers one concrete example after another of how those beliefs play out when enacted by actual politicians, elected and otherwise. The conclusions one is directed towards are pretty scary, actually, and the current parade of bad economic and international news supports those conclusions. More frightening are the examples of history that support those conclusions. We like to think our times are unique, but we've gone down this road before. Frank's book doesn't give one much hope that we'll avoid it in the future. Still, identifying you have a problem is a big first step towards solving it.

The political polemic is a prose form that's usually best served in small doses. That's why we have opinion columnists in the daily newspaper, or watch Shields & Brooks on the NewsHour. Few can keep and hold the attention of the reader for some 300-plus pages, but Frank knows how to pace his rant well. 'The Wrecking Crew' is a smoothly written, superbly constructed series of arguments and histories. The arguments are written in incendiary prose, the histories capped off with trenchant gibes: "And for all their peculiarity, these people—Grover Norquist, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich, and the whole troupe of activists, lobbyists and corporations who got their start back in the Reagan years — have for the last three decades been amongst the most powerful individuals in America. This wave of misgovernment has been brought to you by ideology, not incompetence."

Frank takes readers back before the Great Depression and moves us forward through the 20th century showing the distrustful origins of the conservative policies and how they play out time after time. Good for the super-rich and those in power — not so good for everybody else. Frank argues and provides solid evidence that the conservative ideology is essentially designed to increase the profits of what are now just a few multi-national corporations, not the national interest of the United States. The effectiveness of a government is directly proportional to how profitable it is to run a big business within its borders.

Frank writes extremely well. He's funny and he knows how to shape and pace an argument. He knows when to take his facts down to a microscopic level. He'll describe the seating arrangements and views from a posh DC restaurant, for example, or take readers on a tour of the wealthiest suburb in the world. But he also knows when and how to zoom out for the big picture, and how to breathe fire and life into language. I happen to agree with his perspective — I'm a member of the political church Frank preaches for. But I think that regardless of your faith, readers are likely to enjoy his writing. He employs honest arguments and eschews name-calling. He can be over-the-top when it’s called for, which, given the current state of our economy, is pretty often. 'The Wrecking Crew' is powerful and entertaining even while it is profoundly disturbing. Frank doesn't sign off with beacons of hope for a better future. He does offer a clear vision of the origins and outcomes of the conservative philosophy. The first step is to admit that we have a problem.

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