One of the more humorous Republican conceits since the 2006 electoral debacle is that they were defeated because they somehow were seduced by Wa(r)shington. It's Washington that made them run the nation's finances, military and international standing into a ditch. It's Washington that made them a party to a level of corruption not seen since the Gilded Age.
"We wanted to change Washington -- and Washington changed us," the John McCain's and Paul Ryans tell us.
It's an absurd story -- the Republicans had controlled Congress for 12 years and the White House for six. If harlot Washington had been able to seduce them, they must have been more than a little willing.
Thomas Frank, the Kansan-born scourge of modern conservatism, demolishes this argument in his latest book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. He's speaking tonight at 7 at Schwartz's on Downer and, if you can (You've got to buy the book to get a ticket for two), the Brawler highly recommends you go. He's as good a speaker as he is a writer.
An excerpt from the introduction:
Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.
The correct diagnosis is the "bad apple" thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the last few years. ...
But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the "values" that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities -- priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. ... Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because the disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action. ...
Yes, today's conservatives have disgraced themselves, but they have not strayed from the teachings of their forefathers or the great ideas of their movement. When conservatives appoint the opponents of government agencies to head those government agencies; when they auction their official services to the purveyor of the most lavish "golf weekend": when they mulct millions from groups with business before Congress; when they dynamite the Treasury and sabotage the regulatory process and force government shutdowns -- in short, when they treat government with contempt -- they are running true to form. They have not done these awful things because they are bad concservatives; they have done them because they are good conservatives, because these unsavory deeds follow naturally from the core doctrines of the conservative tradition.