Thomas Frank. The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (New York: Henry Holt
and Company, 2008)
Reviewed by T. Hatch
The Wrecking Crew is essentially an intellectual history dissecting movement conservatism's nihilism and how this translates into the exercise of political power. The “wingers” who descended on Washington D.C. like a biblical plague of locusts beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 have systematically sabotaged the liberal state. By placing those hostile to the project of the liberal state in key positions e.g. lumbermen at the head of the Forestry Service, anti-union zealots at the Department of Labor etc. the wingers have been wildly successful at capturing the state and using it to destroy the loathsome liberalism that has been the source of their “oppression.” The conservative formula for victory is to scatter liberal constituencies hallow out the state, and reward your cronies with the loot.
Following in the tradition of Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Frank documents the “defunding of the left” which he characterizes as “the north star of the conservative project.” It is the story of corrupting lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and right-wing operatives such as Grover Norquist and how they preyed upon the suicidal tendency of liberalism to depend on the fair play of its sworn enemies. Throughout the narrative the leit motif of the interests of business are central and defining to the wingers' cause. All the while the saboteurs, relentlessly advancing a pro business political agenda, adroitly shield themselves with the mantle of libertarianism portraying themselves as merely seeking human freedom. In this respect they took a cue from Milton Friedman who advanced the cause of the freedom sweatshops by repeatedly quoting Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell.
This book is very much the case of “it takes one to know one.” If one views Frank's August 8th interview on Democracy Now he candidly admits to once being a college Republican before his defection. By reading this useful book one develops a greater understanding of how we arrived at the point where we are today in the Bush era where we now have a “market based government.” It remains an open question whether the American liberal state was merely “a forty-year suspension of the market's reign” or not.