Public Values

"Cult of outsourcing and privatizing" exposed in new Thomas Frank book

The Wrecking Crew shows how conservative ideologues sabotage the state.

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule by Thomas Frank - BarnesandNoble.comby Ish Theilheimer

Thomas Frank, author of the American political bestseller What's the Matter With Kansas? is publishing a new book that explains how conservatives came to power over the past decades. Although its analysis is specific to the US, the picture it paints is equally applicable to Canada.

In it, according to Publisher's Weekly, he "surveys what he regards as the hallmarks of conservative control of Washington: a government hobbled by budget deficits, disgraced by scandals, downsized, outsourced, hollowed out and sold off to corporate interests and thus made incapable of meeting its basic responsibilities. The result of this 'political vandalism', he contends, is a perverse propaganda triumph for conservatives, who point with gleeful cynicism to the shambles they make of government as proof that government can't do anything right."

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule [Metropolitan, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7988-3, to be released in August] outlines the strategies and tactics by which conservatives on both sides of the Canada-US border have framed public institutions and regulation in a negative light and glorified business and corporate dominance of every aspect of life. "Frank presents a scathing recap of Republican mismanagement and corruption, from the Hurricane Katrina debacle to the depredations of Jack Abramoff, and combines it with a shrewd dissection of the theories of conservative ideologues who call for and celebrate the sabotaging of the state."

Some of the book has been excerpted in a new essay by the same title in the August edition of Harper's Magazine (not yet available on-line). Here are a few excerpts that speak to the power of Frank's analysis:

"Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident; nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society.

"The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school. Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.

"Let us start with conservatives' sense of their own exclusion... The government is never theirs, they believe, no matter how much of it they happen to control... For most of the past three decades these insurgents have controlled at least one branch of the government; they were underwritten in their rule by the biggest of businesses; they were backed by a robust social movement with chapters across the radio dial. Still they remain the victims, the outsiders; they fight the power, the establishment, the snobs, the corrupt.

"In 1981 came the turn of the College Republicans, where the right-wing takeover was led by none other than the future supercorruptionist Jack Abramoff... Back in the Vietnam days it had been leftists who fought the power, he explained to reporters. But 'now we're the campus radicals'...

"What the rising conservative sensibility of those years treasured above all else was 'confrontation' with the left. It called for a quasi-military victory over liberalism; it would have no truck with civility or fair play; and it made heroes out of outrage-courting lib-fighters... To see college kids in the street, chanting the slogans of the hard right – this was a spectacle for which older Republicans, angered by what they had seen in the Sixties, were willing to pay a great price.

"You don't have to dig very deep into the conservative literature of the Eighties before you hit apartheid South Africa... South Africa was essentially like us, and yet the liberals, with their sanctions and divestment strategies, with their airy do-gooder moralism, were prepared to sell out this loyal friend, just as they have sold out so many others.

"There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, "We can now go to students at Harvard and say, 'There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives'."

"Like Bush and Reagan before him, John McCain is a self-proclaimed outsider, but should he win in November he will merely bring us more of the same: an executive branch fed by, if not actually made up of, lobbyists and other angry, righteous profiteers."

Ish Theilheimer is the publisher of The Straight Goods.

Privatization vs. Public Values Frame
  Unrestrained business environment / Sabotaging the state
  Conservatives' fighting exclusion / Corporations controlling government

Links and sources
  The Wrecking Crew, Shakesville blog, posted by Chet Scoville, July 07, 2008

Posted: July 15, 2008

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