How we got to this grim pass in our political and economic system
Reviewed by Jason Farago for The Barnes & Noble Review
No figure on the American left knows more about the American right than Thomas Frank: columnist, editor, and hawkeyed observer of conservatism high and low.
In “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” his scathing 2004 classic on the politics of the American heartland, he shone a klieg light on the strange triumph of the right in what was once the epicenter of the American populist movement. In the Kansas of those days, wedge social issues from abortion to flag-burning served as the grease that helped the rich and powerful ram through spectacular tax cuts for themselves, normally at the expense of the very voters who'd put them in office.
But in Pity the Billionaire:The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, his new book, Frank shows how thoroughly conservatism has mutated in the past few years. Coastal observers of the Tea Party phenomenon often assume that the tacky tri-cornered hats and elevation of the Constitution to holy writ function as a cover for the same old right, obsessed with the traditional God-guns-gays trifecta. In fact, as Frank saw during months on the road, "the fog of the culture wars has temporarily receded" – and in its place, the foot soldiers of the right now focus their energy on the defense of radically free markets, exhorting capitalism at its most rapacious and government at its least effective.
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