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Bill Moyers: Thomas Frank and Mother Jones on the Vast, Corrupting Power of Money in Politics

When it comes to the vast, corrupting influence of money in politics, historian Thomas Frank has sounded the alarm loudly and often.

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Thomas Frank: --and they talk about this. If we can just get government out of the way and we can reach out, you know, and--

Bill Moyers: But getting government out of the way is what helped bring down the economy--

Thomas Frank: Of course, but they say the only problem is that government, you know, yes, we deregulated all that stuff, we deregulated all through those years, but we didn't go far enough. And so you can say to them, "Well, look at the record of George W. Bush, the champion deregulator. Look at all the amazing things that he did to set Wall Street loose to deregulate."

And they're like, "Well, George W. Bush was not a real conservative." They say this all the time. It's very easy for them to, you know, because they're such purists and such ideologues to excommunicate someone like George W. Bush from their movement and say, "Well, he wasn't pure enough." Ten years ago they had little statues of him on their desks, you know. But how he's thrown out of the movement, "Not pure enough" --

Bill Moyers: That's their idealism?

Thomas Frank: -- because of the bailouts.

Bill Moyers: Their idealism is their unblinking faith in the free market?

Thomas Frank: Yes, and this is an idea that when I first started writing about it was something that you only saw from the Jamie Dimons of the world.

I called it market populism. It was something that you saw on CNBC in the early days, in the stock market boom of the '90s. You would see it in, like, personal investment books and I made fun of it. Today it is everywhere. It is epidemic, and it's not just the high and the mighty that believe this stuff now, that believe that markets are both a natural phenomenon and a democratic phenomenon. This is average people all across America that believe this.

Bill Moyers: But you're a historian. Why has this happened?

Thomas Frank: Our anger turned from Wall Street to Washington, and it happened in a very short period of time. If you remember back to 2009 when the bailouts were going on the sort of high point of public anger came when AIG, remember these guys? This is a company that should not exist any longer.

These are the people that invented, they didn't invent the credit default swap, but they sort of took it to its logical extreme. And these guys were not only bailed out, they were handing out bonuses to the executives in the division that had invented the credit default swap and had done all these crazy things. And the public was so angry. This is in March of '09. I remember the feeling.

Bill Moyers: Yeah, I do to. I was reporting on it.

Thomas Frank: People were furious. And then all of a sudden the direction changed and it went away from AIG and over to Washington. And we decided that the real villains in all of this was Washington. And--

Bill Moyers: But Tom, why wouldn't you feel that way if you saw how the banking committee is dominated by money from Wall Street, if you see the revolving door you talked about, if you know that 18 members of the Federal Reserve Board of Directors benefiting from the bailout, if you see the deregulators helping Wall Street despite all this? Why wouldn't your anger be directed toward Washington?

Thomas Frank: They certainly deserve a really, really big helping of public anger. And there's a lot of terms, look, I imagine I'm going to make fun of the Tea Party movement, and that's certainly what Pity the Billionaire is about, but let's give them some concessions right off the bat.

 
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