In his new book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, Thomas Frank cites a post-Katrina Fox column I wrote (one, incidentally, that attacks the Bush administration) and smugly refers to me as a “regular feeder at D.C.’s subsidized libertarian troughs.” The footnote cites my association with Cato, reason, Fox News, and “etc.,” whatever that means.
I’m not really offended by the description, though neither Cato nor reason gets government subsidies. I guess you could technically count a 501(c)(3) status as a subsidy, but neither Cato nor the Reason Foundation lobbied for or created that law, and I’m not sure it’s really fair to blame them for taking advantage of it. I don’t know if Fox News gets any corporate welfare. Probably. But then, now that he’s writing for the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank’s checks are signed by Rupert Murdoch, too. And I’ll bet his checks are a whole lot bigger than mine.
Frank’s reference to me is a tiny part of his book, and I’ll concede I haven’t read the rest of the book. I have read his prior criticism of Beltway libertarians, which as far as I can tell is that we’re walking contradictions because we advocate for free markets while living off of the welfare of corporate and private donations–and that without those donations, or in the free mark utopia we advocate, we wouldn’t have jobs.
To a certain extent that’s true. In a free market utopia, there would be little need for people to advocate for free markets. And in a libertarian society, there would be less need for libertarian advocacy. But the idea that there’s something inherently anti-market or anti-libertarian about advocacy groups because they’re funded by donations (as opposed to commerce) shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both free market and libertarian philosophy. There’s nothing anti-market about philanthropies, advocacy groups, the arts, or other components of civil society funded by benefactors.
But there is a fair amount of intellectual laziness in Frank’s swipe at me, which makes me wonder how thoroughly he researched the rest of his book. I’m hardly a foot-soldier in the Bush cabal of “wingers” (Frank’s preferred term) his book criticizes, and implies I’m part of (which is odd, given that I voted for Kerry in 2004, and have no intention of voting for McCain this time around). I do have a column with Fox, but I’ve used it pretty regularly to attack Bush’s policies, including the war in Iraq, his prosecution of the drug war, his contempt for civil liberties, and his imperialist ambitions when it comes to executive power, to name just a few. Sorta’ like Frank is doing with his column on the ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal op-ed page.
It looks like Frank’s research consisted of a Google search on anti-government reactions to Katrina, where he found my Fox column, did a quick scan of my byline, and felt he had enough to lump me in with Heritage, AEI, and the gang. A bit more research would have shown him that the issues I write about regularly are much more in line with, say, the ACLU than with Heritage or the Weekly Standard.
In fact, at risk of sounding arrogant, I’ll gladly put my own record of achieving real-world results for people without access to power and privilege up against Frank’s any day of the week. I think I’d come out favorably.
But there’s no time for nuance, complexity, or subtlety when you’re a good lefty lobbing ad hominem grenades at your perceived ideological opponents. We’ve learned that with Naomi Klein. Cato is Heritage is Reason is Fox. Neocons are libertarians are conservatives are the Christian right. Milton Friedman believes the same things Bill Kristol does. Attack their funding. Draw broad associations. See conspiracies at every turn. But whatever you do, don’t debase yourself to actually addressing their arguments.