When Thomas Frank decides to write an election-year book about Republican misrule, you should probably pay attention. What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which came out in 2004, correctly predicted the rise of "moral values" voters long before they walked out of the polling stations that November. It sparked a rush of critical praise for Frank, a longtime cultural critic and former academic who semi-jokingly wishes he could get "a friend of mine to sort of act my part on these publicity tours" -- like the one that brings him to Denver for a pair of events on Monday, August 18. He could then reserve more of his focus for his heavily researched, deftly written books, which intersperse anecdotes about Washington and his own life with damning evidence of Republican corruption.
This election year, Frank’s new book, The Wrecking Crew, examines how under decades of conservative rule, and especially the Bush administration, privatization and corrupt contracting processes have become the rule. They’re subjects that might seem as dull as a values voter. Just wait and see how important they become.
Or don’t wait, and just see how important the corruption from lobbying and privatization already is. The recent accusations that have been leveled against longtime Alaska senator Ted Stevens prove that even after being chastised at the ballot box in 2006, Republicans have still not given up their plans. "He’s gone across the line, apparently, but there are countless examples of people doing stuff pretty similar to what he did and it’s perfectly legal," Frank says.
"The most important distinction about the way the Bush administration runs its government is how they’ve privatized and outsourced everything they can," he adds. "This should shock people, and I’m hoping it does."
In creating a "corruption theory for our time," Frank attempts to make sense of the enormous scale of the scandals that have consumed Washington during the peak of Republican rule. Frank argues that the Bush administration, aided by a Congress eager to win pieces of the lucrative privatization pie for itself, created an environment of allowing corporate interests to take over almost every part of the government. The American people, whom they mention in adulatory terms in seemingly every speech, lost control of their money in a more troubling way than a tax-and-spend liberal would ever dare to try. "The conservatives have done everything they can to close down oversight, so we don’t know what these corporations are doing with our tax money," he says. "We know they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, because they botch everything they try, but it’s very frightening."
However, despite the grave threat such a culture of corruption poses -- a threat which he has been disappointed to see neither presidential candidate debate -- Frank still finds humor in the whole situation. He’s not an optimist, but he finds hope in some funny places.
"The lobbying rules [that the Democrats passed in 2006] did have big effects in certain ways," he says. "One of the lobbyist restaurants started to have a happy hour… it has a fabulous view of the Capitol and was the primo location for Republican fundraisers, and they started selling cheap beer up there!"
How bad have things gotten under the Republicans? Local businesses stopped selling cheap beer to the masses. That’s about as undemocratic as you can get, and with Frank’s lead, we might begin to pay attention to such problems (and perhaps more serious ones) in the upcoming election.
Thomas Frank will appear at the Denver Newspaper Agency on August 18 at 8 a.m. in an event co-sponsored by the Denver Press Club. Go to denverpressclub.org for more info, and pre-register at blacktie-colorado.com. He will also appear at the LoDo Tattered Cover at 7:30 p.m. that night, in an event open to anyone. Click here to learn more. -- James Anthofer