Thomas Frank on his book, "The Wrecking Crew"
Thomas Frank remembers his exact thought when he first heard John McCain had selected Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for vice president.
"I'd never heard of her," Frank says. "And I know something about Alaska politics."
Frank spent time in the state while researching his latest book, "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule," looking into the background of Sen. Ted Stevens - who is on trial for lying on financial disclosure forms - and others.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, they chose someone from Alaska. That's terrible,'" Frank recalls of Palin's selection. "And then it turns out she's supposed to be queen."
In many ways, that selection and other news events of the last few months have helped to bolster Frank's point in his recent book, which he will promote during a stop tonight at the River City Reading Festival in Lawrence.
Frank graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School, attended Kansas University, gained acclaim for his first book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?," and is now a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
He'll speak at 5 p.m. today at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University. He'll sign copies of the book from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in a tent outside the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. The entire festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the library.
In "The Wrecking Crew," Frank's thesis is that conservatives are systematically dismantling the federal government for their friends in the corporate world, all the while painting a picture of a broken government that can be better handled by outsourcing.
On his book tour the past few months, Frank says he's yet to hear a solid argument against his thesis - and especially how it applies to the past eight years under President George W. Bush.
"It's hard to get people to defend the Bush administration," Frank says. "It's different from four years ago and I wrote 'What's the Matter with Kansas?,' and lots of people would defend Bush then."
Now, people who claim to be true conservatives say Bush isn't one of their own, Frank says.
"I've had numerous people tell me he's really a liberal and that D.C. is a liberal city," Frank says. "Conservatives will say this: that all these are horrible things, but that you can't put them at the feet of conservatism because the people I talk about aren't real conservatives."
Those people include many considered cornerstones of recent conservative moments: Bush; former President Ronald Reagan; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; and Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist now serving prison time for fraud charges.
Since the book came out, Frank cites these news events as helping to bolster his liberal stance on politics:
¢ The scandal in the Department of the Interior, in which staffers are accused of having sexual relations with people in the industry they work with.
¢ The trial of Stephens, who is accused of fraud during the expansion of his Alaska home.
¢ Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention, in which Frank says he "tried to claim all the misgovernment on liberalism."
Not everyone is buying into Frank's philosophy.
"It's an interesting book, but it's kind of built on a false premise," says Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics and former director of conservative Fred Thompson's presidential campaign.
Lacy, who has not read the full book but says he has read plenty about it, calls it a "gross oversimplification" of conservative thought.
But he says he reads plenty of liberal columns, and he figures the fact that the historically conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page gave the liberal Frank a regular slot means his views are well-thought out.
"The fact the Wall Street Journal picked him up as a columnist speaks volumes," Lacy says. "Editorially it's on the exact opposite side, but it respects the guy and what he brings to the table."
Frank's political slant was one of the reasons why organizers of the River City Reading Festival chose Frank as the keynote speaker.
"He's obviously much better received here in Lawrence than he would be in other towns in Kansas," says Maria Butler of the Lawrence Public Library, noting Lawrence's liberal leanings.
Frank, meanwhile, is trying to adapt his public presentations to the news of the day. He realizes, given the election, portions of his book make him seem like a prophet, while others make him wish he could do a rewrite.
He again cites the Romney speech at the Republican National Convention, and the idea that Washington is run by liberals.
"I have a section about that in the book," Frank says. "I didn't realize - and I've been writing it for two years - I didn't realize it would become such a universal explanation that George Bush is not a real conservative - that, in fact, Ronald Reagan wasn't a real conservative."
Frank, meanwhile, isn't expecting much back-and-forth opposition from his talk in Lawrence - at least based on his previous talks about the book.
"It's all about these well-documented facts about Washington," Frank says. "I haven't had anybody stand up for the system."