What's the Matter with Conservatives

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Thomas Frank, author of The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, discusses the flaws in free-market conservatism.


Thomas Frank

Comments [51]

Keneisa from Brooklyn

What an absolutely tiresome segment. Can I get my 20 minutes back?

Aug. 09 2008 12:14 AM
ellen from ny

number 12 is right...we have monopolies and oligarchies operating under govt protection--in every way from bailouts, to tax breaks, payoffs to congress, lack of protection for the public, --and also commercialism taking over all aspects of life...even public radio! Far too many commercials for corporate sponsors on all the shows, esp compared to past years. Gets worse and worse.

Aug. 07 2008 09:45 PM
ellen from ny

the state and local govts don't have enough resources, and are more subject to local prejudices against minorities,etc...the feds must help...a lot. Also the religious charity is unreliable...what if a person isn't moved by your --he doesn't have to help. The govt has a policy to help and can be consistent. It's the function of govt to do this, not religious charity in a modern society. Shades of Dickens london work houses!

Aug. 07 2008 09:34 PM
mc from Brooklyn

Thanks, Maher. I'll check that out. I also agree about Brian. I think he tries to keep it rant-free and also sometimes looks for common ground. There is more of it than we think.

Signing off now. Good weekend everyone.

Aug. 07 2008 01:42 PM

mc: Commentary Magazine

I do think that Brian Lehrer, despite leaning left, is one of the best, fairest, talk=show hosts in the radio (or anywhere) and I realize that has much to do with his staff and listeners

the shouting-match oand one-sided rant shows do very little for me - or for public discourse

Aug. 07 2008 01:32 PM
mc from Brooklyn

eva: Well said. We are finding out now that capitalism also needs oversight.

Maher: I applaud you for being someone who leans conservative but still reads the NY Times and listens to NPR and WNYC, because I think both tend toward the left. Which Commentary are you referring to when you mention reasoned unshrill voices of the conservatives? I read David Brooks partly because I find him unshrill and I don't disagree with everything he says, though I disagree with much of it.

tractor guy: You have nailed it. Look both ways, because neither party really has our interests at heart, they both need to be watched closely.

Aug. 07 2008 01:25 PM
tractor guy from Hackensack, NJ

Thank eva. You always got to look both ways when crossing a 2 sided street…

Aug. 07 2008 01:07 PM

Actually, I think tractor guy is right, especially with the indictment of Democrats sitting around watching.

Aug. 07 2008 12:40 PM
tractor guy from Hackensack, NJ

The republicans burned down the store and the democrats sat and watched instead of calling the fire department. Wake up people, both sides of the isle are bought and paid for by corporate America. The entire senate and congress is bought and does not work for you anymore and has not for a long time…. You’d be very naive and foolish to think any different…. End special interests and you end the problem….

Aug. 07 2008 12:33 PM

#39 - agreed
It's about issues, not personalities, and to deepen my understanding of the issues, I
I listen to WNYC, NY Times, read The New Republic etc... even though I tend towards Republicans and Conservatism and theoretically should be listening to talk radio and reading the Washington Times.

That being said, I also feel that Commentary is a very un-shrill and well-reasoned voice of Conservatives.

Aug. 07 2008 12:32 PM

Agreed on both points.
The irony of our perception of the free market is that it comes from a misunderstanding of Smith, who really wanted checks on the system. Because, as you point out, all systems need oversight. As we're, uh, finding out now, AGAIN.

Aug. 07 2008 12:29 PM
erick from Rochester, NY


If the Federal Government was no longer taxing for and administering those programs do you think that potential tax revenue would somehow disappear? Imagine for a moment what NY state would be like were we to reverse the State/Fed tax burden and we payed what we pay in Federal taxes to the state and vice versa. We'd all be alot better off.

Aug. 07 2008 12:23 PM
mc from Brooklyn

Re: #22, I think you could say the same thing about any system. If there are no checks and balances someone will always try to game the system to his/her favor.

To Maher, Tom and eva,
I think we would all do well to focus less on personalities like George W. Bush, Castro, Chavez, and yes, Obama, and more on what we would like to see happen in our society. Vesting a single person or group of people with those goals is futile. Better to really know where they stand, watch what they do and then hold them accountable for their actions rather than listening to their rhetoric.

Aug. 07 2008 12:14 PM

I suspect that if the GOP had not sabotaged McCain in 2000, he would have won by winning over a lot of Democrats (I myself was hoping to cast a vote for him in 2000, but the powers that be at the GOP didn't let that happen, as I recall...)
Had McCain won, who knows how different things would look now. My completely unscientific theory is as follows:
1) with an entirely different national security and foreign policy team, we might have reacted quite differently after 9/11. Specifically, I think we would have stayed in Afghanistan, and avoided the Iraq fiasco. Would we be winning in Afghanistan? Does anyone win in Afghanistan? Not sure, but we'd be doing better than we are now. Let's face it, Bush-Cheney TANKED the GOP. It's like they drove it right off a cliff. It's not like it won't come back, but you gotta realize what a disaster these clowns have been. And that's coming from someone who thought Bubba was largely a disappointment.

Aug. 07 2008 12:12 PM

Agreed. Washington is a mess, and it wasn't so hot during the Clinton years, either. We need a major bottle of lysol for that town.
I read Frank's article in Harper's this month, thought it was hysterically funny, but like you said, his extreme characterizations don't actually help the argument he's making.

Aug. 07 2008 12:00 PM

As a liberal, I neither hate George Bush, nor adulate Castro or Chavez. That's a stereotype, like insisting conservatives all love George Bush.
If you look at the data, no one actually loves George Bush. His approval ratings are in the toilet. Or, have you not checked? It's okay, you can disavow him, too.

Aug. 07 2008 11:58 AM

#33 - Eva,
I am more a Republican and Conservative than not, but troubled by many things going on in Washington and welcome the critiques on lobbyists etc...

Without such criticism, things will never improve.

But I agree that Frank's tone and language don't do service to some of his better points & his most extreme characterizations will be used to try to dismiss those good points.

Generally, I think if we can have better discourse, we'll see more real progress - even if being snarky and extreme may get more press and attention initially.

Aug. 07 2008 11:57 AM
Tom from Brooklyn

Can someone answer a simple question for me? Ho do Liberals reconcile their intense hatred for George Bush, with their love and adulation for dictators like Fidel Casto and Hugo Chavez?

Aug. 07 2008 11:52 AM

in my experience, conservatives have always surprised me with their generosity. On a one-to-one basis, I have found them to be more generous as employers. At the same time, they were running businesses that were purely for-profit, so there was more money to go around. I have not found them so generous when it comes to charities, and I am skeptical about the data used in the Brooks book you mentioned. Having said that, I am surrounded by so-called liberals who espouse all the pc ideas, but are status-obsessed and environmentally nutty (I have twice seen Sean Penn in SF, he drives a Range Rover - what justifies THAT if you're so concerned about the environment?)
I think Frank takes too harsh a view of conservatives and the conservative movement. On the other hand, I don't think the last seven years are a good reflection of conservative ideas. They have, however, been a good reflection of Visigoth plundering.

Aug. 07 2008 11:47 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Maher, I would agree with you then. No ideology has a lock on greed or selfishness. Perhaps the right seems selfish because it's so obvious that faith in the private solution leaves so many hung out to dry!

Aug. 07 2008 11:45 AM
O from Forest Hills


do you think then that we should have America be like Charles Dicken's era England "A Christmas Carol" which was a commentary on the times. The boss controlled everything and had a good heart so he decided to out of the goodness of his heart give a turkey for Christmas, the day off and would pay for the sick child's medical bills.

Shall we all be poor living off the charity of the rich when they feel like tossing us a penny or two all in the name of "free market" which only has the wealthy's interest at heart?

I don't think so!!!!

Aug. 07 2008 11:45 AM
Cesar from Upper East Side

Politicians frequently rely on the gullibility of the public to believe whatever authority figures tell them. Someone may charge politicians with eating all the cookies from the cookie jar, but when they deny it with a full mouth and crumbs on their cheeks, do we the citizens and media of this country point to the evidence and demand justice? Far too often, we instead tell them not to chew with their mouths open and hand them a napkin.

Aug. 07 2008 11:45 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Local governments have been STARVED for decades, Erick. If New York State were suddenly expected to pick up the tab for all of our social programs, educational, and infrastructure needs, the sky would indeed fall.

Another conservative canard.

Aug. 07 2008 11:43 AM

Mark - #23
No offense taken.

And with all due respect, it is the point - at least to many of the posts here which allege relative "greed" and "selfishness" of conservatives. See posts 2, 3, 4 etc...

Aug. 07 2008 11:41 AM
erick from Rochester, NY

People seem to forget that there are other government entities (specifically the state and local governments)that are more than capable of taxing for and administering social programs. Were the federal government brought back into within its Constitutional mandate it's not as if the sky would fall, the poor would go hungry and the sick would die. The burden would not be removed from government all together it would simply be shifted to more local and accountable governments.

Aug. 07 2008 11:40 AM
O from Forest Hills


Interesting comment....

Aug. 07 2008 11:40 AM
Tom from Brooklyn

What Mr. Frank and other Liberals don't understand that it is exactly this condescending, know-it-all approach that so well defines the Liberal mindset. Forget democracy and a government governed by the will of the people. Give us elitist monarchs who will rule over us ignorant, unwashed masses (the worst of which are epitomized by the inhabitants of Kansas, apparently). Give us high and mighty rulers who will tell us how best to live our lives.
Please spare me your patronizing, head-patting tone, Mr. Frank.

Aug. 07 2008 11:37 AM

so #9
Perhaps it is liberals (and many of the comments here) who protesteth too much about greed and selfishness of conservatives.

The statistics clearly indicate conservatives are more charitable and less greedy than liberals. when it comes to correlation between charitable behavior and "the values that lie beneath" liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government.

The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks' book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative.

Aug. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

No offense, Maher, but that's not the issue.

Conservatives are animated by a belief that an unfettered, raw market can take care of people better than government.

If you really believe that Walmart or ExxonMobil have your interests at heart, or that Bechtel and KBR can be trusted to run a war (or disaster-aid mission), then I would question your concept of charity.

Aug. 07 2008 11:37 AM

The free market is a rational, optimistic idea, like democracy. In theory, it is wondrous. In the dirty hands of mankind, not so much. Smith warned about the difficulty of maintaining a free market that is truly free, as the tendency is for people to try to gain an unfair advantage as soon as they get a leg up.

Aug. 07 2008 11:36 AM
World's Toughest Milkman from the_C_train

Obama will be your savior and make it all right, give you free insurance ans syringes and tuck you in at night.

Aug. 07 2008 11:34 AM

Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

-- Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

-- Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

-- Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

-- Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

-- In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

-- People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Aug. 07 2008 11:33 AM
Cesar from Upper East Side

It is deceptive to call the disavowing reaction of Republicans to the effects of their rule merely ironic. To say so attempts to absolve those Republicans in power of responsibility for the disastrous results of the past few decades, which appears to be their motivation for saying so. Instead, call their reaction what is: manipulative and disinformative.

Aug. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

The major problem is that it may not be possible to maintain a competent government over such a large, widely-extended, and heterogenous group of people that exists on this continent. I always laugh when the phrase "The American people are this or that or want this or that" is used. What exactly is the common demoninator that defines "The American people". I would say there is nothing. So how can such any institution meet the expectations, the needs, etc. over such a disparate group, and sometimes, mutually exclusive, collection of interests.

Aug. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Mark from Brooklyn

Frank's book and Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine lay out this corporatist agenda in plain and sickening detail. I worry that's not possible to put this genie back in the bottle -- as Frank says, the best and brightest no longer even consider working for the public sector, and the mantra that business can do it better is not even questioned.

Aug. 07 2008 11:31 AM
erick from Rochester, NY

What's your guests problem with the government following THE CONSTITUTION?

Aug. 07 2008 11:30 AM
tom from nyc

He is right, but it goes further. The polluted air in Beijing today is from STEEL FACTORIES that belong over here. The free market evangelists that sold off our government also sold off our production jobs. We need those jobs now, and they are in India and China, and those countries are not stupid enough to give it away based on FREE MARKET beliefs.

Aug. 07 2008 11:29 AM

#1, Michael:
Adam Smith would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what became of his enlightened hopes for the free market.
He's been hijacked by the Milton Friedmanistas.

Aug. 07 2008 11:28 AM
Vinny from Upper West Side Middle Class Jewish Liberal Democrat in Manhattan

the real problem,, the source of all thievery and corruption is GREED... on both sides of the aisle

Aug. 07 2008 11:28 AM

This is not free market as described by Adam Smith. What we really have is Monopolies and Oligopolies working under the protection of government. These outsourcing entities has no competition, no openness.

Aug. 07 2008 11:28 AM
Pat from nyc

Blaise was right. It all started with the Air-traffic controllers.

Why did you all cut him off? He had important stuff to say very sucinctly.

Aug. 07 2008 11:26 AM

people are not fed up or looking down on a DEMOCRATIC congress, they are fed up with CONGRESS.

Aug. 07 2008 11:26 AM
O from Forest Hills


me thinks thou protest too much.

Aug. 07 2008 11:25 AM
rick from brooklyn

the era is over to an extent because Republicans no longer control congress. but yes there is still legalized corruption in DC.

Aug. 07 2008 11:25 AM

why is a post defending conservatives deleted when several stereotyped conservative-bashing posts remain?

I am conservative and I am reality based. not
mean, selfish, hypocrites, Machiavellian, intolerant, plundering, selfish, and I believe in the Bill of Rights

I wish some liberals were more tolerant of diverse ideas.

Aug. 07 2008 11:24 AM
mc from manhattan

Oh yes... it's too conspiracy to think we went to war on purpose to fund corporate interest. That would just blow everyone's minds wouldn't it?

Aug. 07 2008 11:22 AM
Robert from NYC

I'm happy to see this book and this information coming out. I'm sure I'm not the only one but we who have seen this happening over the past 2 decades. The government has been taken over by anti-government people!! Now what does that say about us. A government of, by and for the people has become a lobby of, by and for the corporations in the holy name of the free market. It's time we point out the faults of the so called totally free market and the sad state of the economy as well as the social and cultural structures. All down the drain. When you find yourself paying $7 for a cookie because you buy the rhetoric used to sell it, then you need help.

Aug. 07 2008 11:16 AM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

I forget who said it, but it's clear that conservatism is mostly an effort to find a moral justification for selfishness.

Aug. 07 2008 11:11 AM
O from Forest Hills

Conservatives promote a "free market" agenda that only benefits the rich. It is our job as liberals and Progressives to expose the "con" in conservative and not be bought into their philosophies and lies.

Aug. 07 2008 10:56 AM
chris o from new york city

What's the matter with Conservatives? Multiple choices:
a) They are not reality based
b) They are mean
c) They are selfish
d) They are hypocrites
e) They make Machiavellian tactics seem downright quaint
f) They are intolerant
g) They plunder the treasury, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich
h) They believe in aggressive attacks on countries in violation of international law
i) They glorify Jack Bauer and promote torture and are too cowardly to admit it and create Orwellian names like enhance interrogation techniques
j) They don't believe in the Bill of Rights
k) etc., etc.
l) All of the above

Aug. 07 2008 10:47 AM
michael from INWOOD

The Free Market doesn't exist in this country.
1. Bailing out Fany Mae and Fredie Mac -
2. Microsoft's monopoly on an operating system
3. cable companies
4. Bail outs of Airline companies
5. Farm subsidies
6. Tax brakes for Oil companies
7. No Bid contracts for Haliburton to reconstruct Iraq

Aug. 07 2008 10:14 AM

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