A refreshingly no-holds-barred exegesis on the naked cynicism of conservatism in America by The Baffler founder and political observer Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas?, 2004, etc.).
When conservatives rule, all hell breaks loose, the author amply demonstrates in this muckraking, well-reasoned account. The concept of a conservative state is not new, he writes: Business largely laid the foundation of this country and developed a steadfast commitment to the ideal of laissez-faire, as well as hostility to taxation, regulation, organized labor and state ownership. Since the Reagan revolution, however, and especially since George W. Bush came to office, the conservative pattern of deregulation, tax cuts, privatization and outsourcing has massively enriched “everyone who grabbed as the government handed off its essential responsibilities to the private sector.” Despite holding executive or legislative power over the last 28 years, conservatives champion themselves as insurgent outsiders, notes Frank; yet Washington has become a developers’ and lobbyists’ city, grown hugely affluent by tearing down the government. The author traces conservatism’s triumph through two innovations: the “adversarial fantasy” (see above) and the fantastic potential for turning politics into a source of profit (e.g., direct mail and Iran Contra). The right’s fortunes depend on robust public cynicism toward government, so conservatives fill the bureaucracy with cronies, hacks, partisans and creationists, ensuring lousy management and little or no regulatory enforcement. Frank’s look at how conservatism mimics its enemies—the federal government is now bigger, not smaller—is hilariously spooky, as is his chapter on lobbyists, “City of Bought Men.” Clear-eyed and occasionally sarcastic, he offers examples of such howlers as conservatives’ rationalization of apartheid in South Africa, the depredations of Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, labor exploitation in Saipan and the right’s blatant goal to defund and destroy the pillars of liberalism.
A forceful argument that resurrecting equitable, intelligent government starts with understanding how the present plutocracy came about.