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“The Wrecking Crew” by Thomas Frank

Between the covers of “The Wrecking Crew,” Thomas Frank reveals, in concise prose sprinkled with humor, how conservatives have destroyed an American way of life, and why everything the federal government tries seems to go bad. Conservatives have traditionally opposed big government. From 1981 through 2000, when conservative Republicans occupied the White House for 29 of the 37 years, government appears to have shrunk. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the federal government expanded at its greatest rate ever, while civilian employment reached its lowest level since 1950 (Frank 139).

Outsourcing made this possible. Instead of reducing the size of government, conservatives contracted out its functions. Public policy, once the role of government, became a bidding war among private corporations. The reason for out-sourcing might shock the American who believes the best people for the jobs actually get them. “Business needs lousy government,” wrote Homer Ferguson, president of the National Chamber of Commerce, in 1928, “so that no one would ever consider handing over more responsibility to it. ” (Ferguson, in Frank 129). The out-sourcing has wrecked America, Frank writes.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, in 2000 “a well-run, freestanding federal agency” (Frank 142), failed New Orleans after Katrina. Its administrators then were unqualified friends of the Bush appointees who ran the agency and contracted out its work, including the infamous Michael “Brownie” Brown. (The reader is left with unsettling doubt whether America will be prepared at all for the next Katrina. ) Frank’s solution is the abandonment of “market-based government” (government responsible only to business) and a return to the government-operated social programs and

concept of compromise that were the New Deal’s trademarks. He uses as effective symbols Wrecking Crew / 2 homes in Washington, D. C. In the city itself, brick row houses were “built by the thousands . . . for government workers, paid for by New Deal FHA loans” (Frank 14). They were occupied by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter’s “visionary young bureaucrats” (Frank 16), who came to the capital during the liberal New Deal era to make government work. The brick houses, symbolizing quality and permanence, are contrasted with larger, newer (more cheaply built) multi-million dollar homes that sprung up in the Virginia

suburbs during the post-Reagan era. Some, Frank notes, are near a tear down section of McLean, Virginia, where liveable, but smaller homes, will eventually be demolished to make way for still more hastily-built mansions. Who will live in them? “Everyone who grabbed as the government handed off its essential responsibilities to the private sector” Frank 22). “The Wrecking Crew” thus gives shape and form to suggestions, often dismissed as conspiracy theory, that government policy-makers have declared war on the middle class. Frank’s chapter on direct-mail appeals, that both liberals and conservative special-interest

groups use to market their plans, seems more like a sidebar than a chapter that supports his arguments. Liberals, as well as conservatives, use lobbyists; the conservatives being guilty of spending more time in the White House. Reagan conservatives declared excellence in government unacceptable. Doug Bandow, a former Reagan aide, said “given that government absorbs and redistributes wealth rather than creates it, we desperately need to keep the very best people out in the private sector where they can do the most good” (Frank 130). Observers on both sides of the political fence have noted that government does not create a product out of raw

material that can be held, and admired, and sold; and that such products are what the current economy needs to become strong again. Yet Frank argues for a bigger government that would absorb and redistribute more wealth. Frank’s defense of liberalism is not without sentiment. 1965, his birth year, is also when Title / 3 the last liberal president (Lyndon Johnson) was inaugurated, when the economy was booming, when taxes were high and government, relatively speaking, big. The story of liberalism’s rise and fall, he states, is “the story of (his) generation” (Frank 273).

He yearns for a return of the middle class into which he was born, and times when blue-collar workers owned homes and the government, at least in theory, operated with a sense of fair play. “The wreckage of (this) America lies all around us today,” reads the first of his two most powerful paired sentences. “Conservatives pushed its pillars apart and sent it crashing into the ground” (Frank 274). “The Wrecking Crew” is a storehouse for Thomas Frank’s new century sense of humor. He likens time spent interviewing one conservative subject to experiencing George Orwell’s

Two Minutes Hate. It’s also a scholarly, well-researched work, with over seventy annotated pages of end notes. Liberalism is Thomas Frank’s answer, but the politically aware reader might wonder what he thinks of liberal President Obama’s proposed voluntary national service. Not only would more government duties be outsourced: they would be performed at no cost. Title / 4 References Ferguson, H. (1928). “A Plea For Inefficiency In Government. ” Nation’s Business, November 1928. In Frank, p. 129. Frank, T. (2008). The Wrecking Crew. New York, Metropolitan Books.

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