Book Review: Abramoff and conservative GOP rule
"Last I checked, conventional wisdom held that conservatives see the world in black and white while the more nuanced vision of liberals allows for shades of gray. Thomas Frank must have missed that memo. In his world, there are conservatives . . . and there is everyone else. Conservatives, according to Frank, aren't simply wrong about how to make the world a better place. They actually want to make it worse. And while there may be "plenty of good conservative individuals" -- thanks, Tom -- "put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently."

Hence Jack Abramoff, the imprisoned lobbyist, who for Frank represents conservatism in power. As a student activist, Abramoff agitated against big government. But as a high-powered lobbyist, Abramoff used his big-government connections to steal money from Indian tribes operating casinos. He and his cronies, most of whom are now out of office or in jail or both, mouthed conservative rhetoric while doing their self-dealing. They clothed their bad behavior in ideological garb. They used the government power they criticized as outsiders to enrich themselves once they became insiders.

A lot of folks, including me, see Abramoff's crimes as a betrayal of American conservatism and a sign of the conservative movement's relative decline. Not Frank. He argues that Abramoff actually represents conservatism in full flower, that Abramoff's criminality is the ultimate expression of conservative ideas. Frank's problem isn't with some rotten apples. His problem is with the tree. He wants to uproot it.

It's a tall order, delegitimizing an entire political philosophy. So Frank's narrative zigs and zags: from Abramoff to Warren G. Harding to the obscure 1930s writer Albert Jay Nock to Tom DeLay. In its frenetic hurly-burly, "The Wrecking Crew" resembles nothing so much as a Hieronymus Bosch canvas. Dozens of monsters (the conservatives) scurry about wreaking havoc as a pack of screaming innocents (everybody else) flees in terror. And no one is really sure what exactly is going on. Like a Bosch painting, Frank's Washington is an orgy of self-indulgence rendered in vibrant colors. And it's all incredibly entertaining."

Get the Story:
Review by Matthew Continetti: Too Broad a Brush (The Washington Post 9/23)

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