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Bill Moyers & Thomas Frank: How America's Demented Politics Let the GOP Off the Hook for Their Giant Mess

Bill Moyers interviews Thomas Frank on how our short attention span has allowed conservatives to escape blame for their role in the economic meltdown.

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There's something called the pay gap that they used to talk about a lot in Washington, D.C. Which is, back in the '50s, '60s, and up into the 1970s, Federal workers were paid a comparable amount to what people in the private sector earned. Okay? So, if you're a lawyer working for the government, you got about as much as a lawyer working in the private sector. 

Not as much, because government benefits are considered to be much better. Okay. Under Reagan, you had this huge gap open up between Federal workers and the private sector. I asked around. And I found out a government attorney makes $140,000 a year on retirement. After he's been there all his life. In the private sector law firm in Washington, you'd be making $160,000 starting salary. That's first year. Right out of law school. 

BILL MOYERS: So what's the consequence of this pay gap you described? Or, do we get inferior government because of it? 

THOMAS FRANK: Absolutely. It keeps the best and the brightest out of government service, unless you're really dedicated to a cause. 

But let me go one step further with this, Bill. When I say this is done by design, I'm not exaggerating. And this is one of the more surprising things that I found when I was doing the research for "The Wrecking Crew," is that there's a whole conservative literature on why you want second-rate people in government, or third-rate. 

I found an interview with the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1928, where he said-- this quote, it's mind-boggling to me. But he really said this. "The best public servant is the worst one." Okay? You want bad people in government. You want to deliberately staff government with second-rate people. Because if you have good people in government, government will work. And then the public will learn to trust government. And then they'll hand over more power to it.

And you don't want that, of course. Your Chamber of Commerce. And I thought, when I first read this, "That's a crazy idea. I can't believe that sentiment." And then I found it repeated again and again and again. Throughout the long history of the conservative movement. This is something they believe very deeply. 

BILL MOYERS: It comes out of a definitive way of seeing things, right? 

THOMAS FRANK: Yes. And we can summarize that very briefly. That the market is the, you know, is the universal principle of human civilization. And that government is a kind of interloper, if not a, you know, criminal gang. And getting in the way. 

BILL MOYERS: But we saw with this collapse and this bailout, we saw the failure of that. 

THOMAS FRANK: Of course. 

BILL MOYERS: And yet there's no sense of contrition. What's amazing to me, and you wrote this, that the very people who brought us this decade of conservative failures, the party of Palin, Beck, Hannity, Abramoff, Rove, DeLay, Kristol, O'Reilly, just might stage a comeback. 

THOMAS FRANK: I think they might. I think there's a very strong chance of that. 

BILL MOYERS: After only 11 months out of power, because of the record. I mean-- 

THOMAS FRANK: Look, well, the stuff-- 

BILL MOYERS: --it's crazy. 

THOMAS FRANK: --the stuff we've been talking about here today. The stuff in "The Wrecking Crew," that's all forgotten. The financial crisis had that effect of-- that stuff is now off the-- down the memory hole.

BILL MOYERS: Do you really think they believe that unfettered capitalism, unregulated markets, will deliver an ideal democracy and prosperity for everybody? 

 
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