Tomgram: Thomas Frank, Washington’s Lords of Creation

[Note for Readers: With this post, TomDispatch hangs out the “gone fishin'” sign for a week. Back on August 11th.]

As the Bush administration heads for “closure,” Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska seems to be heading for the same fate in a “redecorating” scandal; Monica Goodling of the (in)Justice Department is back in town for her hiring and firing practices; the eternally Foxy Karl Rove continues to give contempt of Congress real meaning; a federal judge ruled against the administration’s typically imperial idea of “immunity”; and rumors are flying about coming “preemptive,” blanket presidential pardons for those who organized the administration’s torture regime and committed other crimes. All the while, holding up the glorious banner of the Great Tradition, the John McCain campaign continues to be a chop shop for K Street Lobbyists. And that’s just a two-second glance at the Washington scene as August begins. As always, give them all high marks for consistency! Après Bush, of course, le déluge.

Thomas Frank, a Kansas boy who once followed conservatism deep into his home state and now writes op-eds that probably drive the readers of the Wall Street Journal crazy, has had a front seat at the Washington spectacle these last years as the Bush administration applied its “enhanced interrogation techniques” to the Federal government. In his latest must-read book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, Frank offers nothing short of a how-to history of the conservative era — specifically how to destroy a government, leave Americans in the lurch, and enrich yourselves all at the same time. It wasn’t just, as he argues, that this administration left “smoking guns” littered around the landscape, but that it ! itself was the smoking gun. If you want to know just what we face as a nation in terms of rebuilding America, his book is a good place to start. Tom

Follow This Dime

Why Misgovernment Was No Accident in George W. Bush’s Washington
By Thomas Frank

Washington is the city where the scandals happen. Every American knows this, but we also believe, if only vaguely, that the really monumental scandals are a thing of the past, that the golden age of misgovernment-for-profit ended with the cavalry charge and the robber barons, at about the same time presidents stopped wearing beards.

I moved to Washington in 2003, just in time for the comeback, for the hundred-year flood. At first it was only a trickle in the basement, a little stream released accidentally by the president’s friends at Enron. Before long, though, the levees were failing all over town, and the city was inundated with a muddy torrent of graft.

How are we to dissect a deluge like this one? We might begin by categorizing the earmarks handed out by Congress, sorting the foolish earmarks from the costly earmarks from the earmarks made strictly on a cash basis. We could try a similar approach to government contracting: the no-bid contracts, the no-oversight contracts, the no-experience contracts, the contracts handed out to friends of the vice president. We might consider the shoplifting career of one of the president’s former domestic policy advisers or the habitual plagiarism of the president’s liaison to the Christian right. And we would certainly have to find some way to parse the extraordinary incompetence of the executive branch, incompetence so fulsome and steady and reliable that at some point Americans stopped being surprised and began simply to count on it, to think of incompetence as the way government works.

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