The Wrecking Crew

The epic story of what an anti-government movement does when it takes the reins of government. The Wrecking Crew was both a meditation on the absurdity of conservative governance and a close-up of the conservative movement as it appears in Washington, DC: its celebrities, its pet doctrines, its glittering get-togethers, its magnificent prosperity, its favorite restaurants. It seems there are enormous profits to be made from dismantling the regulatory state, and The Wrecking Crew is a field manual for understanding how it has been done and who has profited from the work of destruction.

Along the way, The Wrecking Crew told the story of American business’s anti-government philosophy, its war on talent and on federal effectiveness. I went into great detail on the George W. Bush administration’s extreme deregulatory agenda, a chapter of history that modern commentators seem anxious to forget. I also studied the little-known world of affluent conservative Washington: the powerful lobbyists, the military profiteers, the mouse-like elected officials who do their bidding, the office buildings where these players get together and the gilded neighborhoods where the rewards are squandered.

The Wrecking Crew appeared just before the financial crisis of 2008, which was perhaps the ultimate illustration of its thesis. Years of de-regulation and de-supervision had made looting and financial fraud virtually inevitable; the disaster was the consequence of a philosophy of government just as surely as the coronavirus epidemic was twelve years later.

  • “Frank’s gifts as a social observer are on display,” declared the New York Times in its review of the book. “His analysis of why there are so many libertarian think tanks in a country with so few libertarians is dead on. In Thomas Frank, the American left has found its own Juvenal.”
  • “Thomas Frank is back with another hunk of dynamite,” Salon announced in its review. “The Wrecking Crew should monopolize political conversation this year. It’s the first book to effectively tie the ruin and corruption of conservative governance to the conservative ‘movement building’ of the 1970s, and, before that, the business crusade against good government going back at least to the 1890s.”
  • “The challenge of writing a book like this is to avoid wearing the reader down with gloom and outrage,” wrote Jon Wiener in the LA Times. “Frank acknowledges this problem at the outset, in one of his characteristically glorious sentences: ‘We climb to the rooftop, but we cannot find the heights of irony from which we might laugh off the blend of thug and pharisee that is Tom DeLay. . . .’ Nevertheless from his rooftop, he has met the challenge, often brilliantly. He tempers his rage with bitter sarcasm, and his gloom is leavened by an eye for the unexpected and the absurd.”
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