Patriots Who Love Plunder
Goldblatt, David, The Independent (London, England)
THE WRECKING CREW By Thomas Frank HARVILL SECKER Pounds 14.99 (369pp) Pounds 13.49 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
Viewed from Europe, American Conservatism appears an odd if unpleasant beast. The hydra seems a good match, for this is a social movement and political discourse that embraces the Republican Party, multi-media evangelical Protestantism, anti-abortionists, the creepy shadowlands of think-tanks and foundations that brought us the neo- con nightmare, and those clever white men in suits who invented Enron and hedge funds and left us with the current meltdown of the banking system. This is a truly toxic brew from which the strangest creatures are distilled. Witness Sarah Palin, Republican nominee for the vice presidency, governor of Alaska, a rootin'-tootin'-shootin' ex-beauty queen whom shock-jock Russ Limbaugh described as "Guns, Babies and Jesus".
Conservatism in this part of the world was always about the preservation of institutions and the stabilisation of the social order. The oddness, then, of the American multi-headed monster is that it should be called conservative at all. Few social movements have managed to wreak so much global and domestic havoc as this one. Even more alien, those aspects of European conservatism that have modulated the embrace of market economics - noblesse oblige and a genuine if hierarchical collectivism - have no purchase in the US.
One of the many excellent things about Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew is that it provides a primer on who these people are; how they got into power and what they have done since. Above all, he helps us understand how this loathsome bestiary has managed to pull off the ideological conjuring trick of appearing as conservatives driven by patriotism, outsiders reforming the corrupt state - when in fact they are monomaniacal economic liberals driven by greed, insiders ransacking the public treasury.
As Deep Throat said, "Follow the money". The money is in the suburbs. The richest county in the US is not in Silicon Valley or Manhattan, it's Loudoun County, Virginia. In this microcosm, Frank describes the rise of the conservative state and its archipelago of lobbyists, to whom it has contracted out everything from social care to writing federal laws. In the process conservatives have made themselves unbelievably rich, reflected in ostentatious fortress housing.
The party began in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan took the White House. …