Richard's Reviews > Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank
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's review
May 05, 2012

really liked it
Read on May 05, 2012

A worthy follow up to "What's the Matter With Kansas," and like that book, "Pity the Billionaire" helps the reader get a better handle on questions that otherwise boggle the mind. Especially, *why* the Right has managed to gain such a firm support from the very people who are hurt worst by current economic policies.

A good portion of what Frank has to say won't be news to the type of person most likely to read it, but his account of the past few years is far better than most. The real value of the book starts coming through in chapter six, where he builds a strong argument that the way to understand the Tea Party is as a movement of small-business owners.

The small business mindset best describes their desires and grievances. (Think how a small-business owner might look at universal health care.) With that viewpoint to start with, all the operatives on the Right had to do after that was muddle any distinction the Tea Partiers might have been able to make between regulation as *they* deal with it and the kind of regulation that once kept Wall Street and the banks reined in from irresponsible ventures. So long as the Tea Partiers fail to comprehend that crucial difference--so long as they are made to think local health inspections and the Glass-Steagall Act amount to exactly the same thing--they will remain shoulder-to-shoulder with the bond traders with whom they really don't have a single thing in common.

It's as good an explanation as anyone is likely to give for a movement that (as Frank himself argues) embraces an astonishing number of logical fallacies, self-contradictions, and willful blindnesses.

Where the book falls short is its failure to address the very real limitations and failings of the Occupy movement as a response to the Tea Party (or much of anything else). Frank could have written a far more useful book by pointing out more comprehensively how the Left is failing to stand up for those worst hit since 2008, but he opts instead for telling his most likely readers what they want to hear, offering a critique in the tenth chapter that leaves the failure of the Left conveniently at the feet of politicians and Beltway activists, and not the very people probably reading the book. Frank is taking a safe way out here, and it makes me think a bit less of him for it. I could have done with fifty fewer pages regurgitating Glenn Beck--in 2012!--and fifty more addressing matters actually relevant to where we are now.

(Also a side note: it's always rich to read a journalist decrying the internet for 'epistemic closure,' as Frank does here (pp. 155-57). As if the pre-internet mass media had ever given readers and listeners more than selected excerpts of contrary opinions, assuming they were acknowledged at all.)

But still, a valuable book. If you rarely read books about politics and policy, this is one worth making an exception.
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05/05/2012 page 102
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