The Wrecking Crew

By THOMAS FRANK

It makes perfect sense to Thomas Frank that George W. Bush would refer to himself as a “dissident in Washington” despite being behind the biggest executive branch power grab this side of Nixon. Conservatives, in what Frank calls a “supremely cynical maneuver,” paint themselves as revolutionaries and outsiders even when they’re running things; that way, they never have to take responsibility for government’s mistakes and can point to those mistakes as proof that government doesn’t work. In this nervy, brainy, no-holds-barred book, the liberal commentator argues that the “fantastic misgovernment” we live under — his examples include the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the administration of Iraq — is “the consequence of triumph…by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society.” With the sharp analysis and scathing wit that characterized his 2004 bestseller, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Frank covers the decimation of the civil service in favor of outsourcing (the current administration actually tried to “contract out the job of supervising contractors”), the demolition of the regulatory state, and the use of deficit spending to paralyze the government. Frank entertains even as he alarms: he describes right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin as having “the appearance of a Bratz doll but the soul of Chucky,” and similar gems pop up on nearly every page. But the overall tone is ominous, with Frank warning that even if the Democrats win the White House, it will require “years of hard political work” to return the government to the people.