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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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Bill Moyers: I do.

Thomas Frank: We need third parties in this country. And by that I don't mean another third party supported by billionaires, that centrist, you know, in the sort of Ross Perot manner. I mean parties that represent different opinions on the spectrum in the manner of the populist party in the 1890s which was really the last time we saw a third party movement, you know, that contested the ballot from the bottom all the way to the top, you know, and they were a real political party. Unfortunately the techniques that the populists used are against the law in most states. If we were to repeal those laws you might have a vibrant third party scene again.

Bill Moyers: But the two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats make sure that those--

Thomas Frank: That those laws stay in place, exactly--

Bill Moyers: Yeah, that the barriers are not taken down.

Thomas Frank: Well, I'll tell you the other thing we need, and this is even, I mean, everything is going against me here, a labor movement. I mean, it just seems as I look back over all the books that I've written and we look back over our lives what's missing from when we were young and what and where we are now, what made that world, you know, in the 1960s, different from this world that we're in today, and the answer just leaps out at you: it was a strong labor movement.

Bill Moyers: But do you think the returns in Wisconsin suggest that is--

Thomas Frank: No, I don't think that's in the cards. And the Democratic Party could have made it a possibility with something like the Employee Free Choice act in the Obama years and they declined, they decided not to do it. They didn't really lift a finger for their friends in the labor movement and are watching them just get wiped out.

Bill Moyers: If we become as you suggest we are already becoming, a country of rich people, what's the odds then of reversing that--

Thomas Frank: Well, we're not going to be a country of rich people, Bill. Some people are going to be rich. We're going to be a country ruled by rich people. We already are to a certain degree, and there's a word for it, plutocracy: Rule by wealth. And there's no doubt in my mind, I mean, this is the direction we've been heading for a long time.

We came to a turning point and we didn't turn. We came to a point where the plutocracy had utterly discredited itself, had ruined all of our savings, you know, smashed our 401ks, defrauded us in countless ways, corrupted our government as we saw in the Bush years and the Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay years and we came to a turning point and we didn't turn. We decided no, we got to double down on this. We need, you know, a stronger dose of that bad medicine. That's where we are today.

Bill Moyers: So why pity the billionaire?

Thomas Frank: That's sarcasm, Bill.

Bill Moyers: No, no, Tom Frank sarcastic? Tom Frank, the book is Pity the Billionaire. Very good reading. Thank you very much for being with me.

Thomas Frank: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Bill Moyers: It's not just the wealthy, their super PACs and the candidates they buy who profit from all this money. Dan Froomkin and Paul Blumenthal at "The Huffington Post" report that the top 150 political consultants and media buyers already have grossed nearly half a billion dollars in this election cycle, and there's still five months left to go.

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