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Book Review: Pity The Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank

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I’m a bit late getting to the party celebrating this latest work of Thomas Frank, author of What’s The Matter With Kansas?, and the fault is entirely mine.

Pity The Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right is not a large book, nor is it a hard read. It is a concisely detailed look at the events and processes by which the American economy was toppled from within, despite the legal system intended to defend it from predation. There is so much detail that I was reminded every few pages about the anger and frustrated helplessness I feel each time these predatory bunco artists take it upon themselves to assault the economic security of the middle class, and then brazenly blame us for allowing them to do so with impunity. I would have to put the book down each time I felt the rage building, which caused me to take far more time to finish reading the book than a review should normally take. For this I apologize to Henry Holt & Co.

The fact that Pity The Billionaire evokes these strong feelings in me must be seen as a measure of the voluminous study that Thomas Frank put into this effort. Well-researched, amply footnoted, and provided with a plethora of supporting links, the book is a must-read for the historians who will one day attempt to explain just what happened to the United States during the Great Recession. Step by painful step, Frank recounts the process by which the economy was subverted for private gain as the defense stood by watching.

Frank also covers the rise of the Tea Party, the masterful manipulation of the common folk, directed by the “conservative” media to rise up angry and take action to prevent governmental relief against the very predations the Tea Party railed against in their rallies. This was accomplished in part by the co-option of the tactics of Saul Alinsky, which had proven very successful during the 1960s political movement to mobilize large numbers of people in opposition to the Vietnam War and racial bigotry. These successful tactics remain viable. We currently see Newt Gingrich using Alinsky against his liberal self as Newt campaigns for the primary votes of Florida, a pertinent example of the assertion Frank makes about the misuse of populism being levied against an aroused populace. Liberal strategies are thus being used by the “conservatives” to ensure against the rise of a new liberal opposition to the greedy corporatism which has brought the national economy to the edge of collapse.

One is constantly asking “Where are the regulators?” as one reads this econo-political Through The Looking Glass cum Animal House farce. Frank takes an entire chapter to explain why the regulators do nothing in the face of these hostile actions. He takes Barack Obama and the Democrats to task, showing how the failed strategy commonly known as bipartisanship prevented any meaningful action to address the crisis, and was continued in the face of mounting evidence which should have resulted in its termination. Frank resorts to comparing the inept Obama administration to the British generals of the Western Front, who sent thousands to their needless deaths because they didn’t ever bother to understand the tactics and strategy of their opposition enough to come up with a different plan. Frank also uses the WWII example of the French Maginot Line to explain the failure of Obama to act, describing the adherents of Team Obama as hiding behind their own defenses waiting for an attack which instead traveled a route left undefended and which resulted in their craven surrender to their political rivals after the midterm election.

Frank summarizes: “The real tragedy of the Great Recession is that the moneyed interests no longer have anything to fear from us….” In this he is very wrong. Frank ends Pity The Billionaire just prior to the rise of the Occupy Movement. The heavy police crackdowns of Occupy actions across the nation since its entrance from stage left last Fall demonstrate that the moneyed interests do indeed have something to fear.

It remains to be seen whether or not Occupy will again successfully stand in defiance while the nominal champion of the people ignominiously cowers, but this would be a great topic for the sequel Frank should begin to write as the follow up to Pity The Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right. As such, Frank’s work should be seen as Part I of a series explaining the Great Recession to the future, making the case as to who bears the blame.

Highly recommended.

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