Saturday, 4 October 2008

"The Wrecking Crew", by Thomas Frank (Harvill Secker/Random House)

A satirical, furious but funny look at the corporate-lobby culture in America

Journalist Thomas Frank has a particular gift as a social observer. Following on from his popular What’s The Matter With Kansas?(2004 – in the UK titled What’s The Matter With America?), Frank has turned his attention to those in Washington who are now pulling the strings of the government purses, and how rampant cronyism and greed has only fuelled disparities between the American rich and poor.

According to Frank, the lobbying process has exploded on George W. Bush’s “spectacular episode of misrule”. He discusses various examples of misplaced appointments that show not only executive idiocy, but total disregard for the average American (the demographic the Republican Party claims to champion oh-so-well). Take, as just one example, Mark Wilson, the man put in charge of the Employment Standards Administration, who wrote an article titled “How to Close Down the Department of Labor” in 1995. Frank addresses the arguments that it’s “always been done”, or that it’s just the actions of a few “bad apples”, to which he rightly points out, “My, what a lot of bad apples they’re growing these days.”

With a roll-call of villains that includes former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, super-lobbyist (and super-crook) Jack Abramovich, Frank gives us detailed (and often amusing) impressions of the men leading the charge for this conservative greed machine.

For all of The Wrecking Crew’s strengths, the book is not flawless. Frank’s outline of a conservative “tradition” is a little limited (he cites the importance of Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, The State, not mentioning a number of recent, rather well-publicised books and writers), and I think this comes across as a part of the book which Frank perhaps wasn’t as interested in reporting on. Frank is much better at satire and social commentary, and because of this I suppose the lack of academic vigour can be somewhat excused. This flaw is only made more noticeable by the 95 pages of notes and references he’s used for the book. Where the book does succeed, is the evolution of the conservative platform as anti-communist to anti-government and pro-business. Frank is also very good at ferreting out the influences of his large cast of villians.

With The Wrecking Crew, Thomas Frank has written an explanation of how a party that believes government just does not work, now that it holds power, is doing everything it can to prove it to the American people. It puts paid to the preposterous myth (perpetuated by the GOP) that conservatives are outsiders or “insurgents” trying to stick it to the liberal nanny state and the liberal media, whose only goal is to take your guns, steal your money through high taxes, and abort all babies. The Wrecking Crew is a witty, satirical and biting expose of the corruption that permeates Washington’s lobbying culture, and the shrinking gap between public and corporate governance.

Satirical, insightful and full of plenty of scary facts, The Wrecking Crew is an amusing book that should appeal to anyone interested in the Washington culture and the recent fall from grace of the Republican Party.

Also Try: Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel & Dimed, Glenn Greenwald's Great American Hypocrites, Richard Clarke's Your Government Failed You, Rick Shenkman's Just How Stupid Are We?, Matt Taibbi's The Great Derangement & Smells Like Dead Elephants

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