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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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THOMAS FRANK: It's a cynical town, Washington, D.C. And the conservative movement tends to be deeply, deeply, deeply cynical about government. Now, it's also, I mean, deeply idealistic about the market. I mean, the market can do no wrong, almost by definition. But government they regard as a criminal gang. I mean, many, many conservatives have compared-- oh, they always do, compare government to criminals. All the time. 

Taxation is a form of theft. It's as bad as a mugger in the street saying, "Give me your money." And America is pretty much unique among the nations in that our political system, half of our political system is basically dedicated to the destruction of the government from within. I don't know any other country where that's the case. But there's plenty of countries where government works really, really well. I mean, even, for God's sake, in India, you know, which we don't think of as being an advanced industrial society, their banks didn't all go bust in the latest downturn. Now, why is that? 

Because their equivalent of the Federal Reserve was not, you know, deregulating, stopping enforcement. They weren't doing any of those things. They were keeping a very tight lid on it. Government can work. It works all the time. 

BILL MOYERS: You wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Let me ask you to broaden that canvas and ask, with the answer to the question, what's the matter with America that we tolerate all of this? 

THOMAS FRANK: I think a large part of it is that-- well, it's the chronic historical forgetting, you know? We just elected Barack Obama in this-- you know, he had quite a mandate. You know, biggest majority of any President since Reagan. And now a year later, and the public is already turning on him. And that's a part of the problem. 

But, you know, another part of it is that the conservative argument about government and freedom is very compelling when they say that something like, you know, the national, you know, any proposal for a national health program is a violation of our freedom. Americans don't like to hear that their freedom is being violated. That is a hot button argument. Now, the obvious-- look, there's an obvious response that Democrats could make. Which is no, this is a way of growing our freedom. This will actually expand human freedom, not limit it. They never say that. 

BILL MOYERS: Why? So, part of the problem with America is the Democratic Party? 

THOMAS FRANK: A huge part of the problem, because look, the conservatives have for decades now made their-- the whole point of their party is to attack government, attack the state, encourage cynicism about government. And then wreck it when they're in charge, right? 

Democrats never defend the state. They never come out and say, "No, no. It's important to have, you know, government. It's important to have a Department of Labor. These are, you know, having government actually-- a good government increases your freedom. It doesn't ruin it." They never fight back consistently. 

BILL MOYERS: Why? 

THOMAS FRANK: I think they're-- some of them do. You've got members of Congress here and there that do. But by and large, the prominent leading Democrats in our society don't do that. Why is that? Because I think that would get them in trouble with their funders. I mean, the power of money is huge in the political system. You know, despite all the efforts that have been made over the years to get money out of politics. It's still immensely powerful. 

 
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