As Chris Hayes reminded us before Harper's Thomas Franks joined him in the segment, "the Gingrich revolution in Washington gave way to crime and corruption with impressively staggering speed" and as he discussed with Frank here, this new lot coming
January 5, 2011

As Chris Hayes reminded us before Harper's Thomas Franks joined him in the segment, "the Gingrich revolution in Washington gave way to crime and corruption with impressively staggering speed" and as he discussed with Frank here, this new lot coming in and their embrace of lobbyists looks like it's just business as usual for the GOP and their new leadership in the House.

HAYES: What begins as a movement becomes a business, which quickly turns into a racket.

Now, to be clear, this is not just a Republican problem. Congress is fundamentally broken and corrupt, and the Democrats are part of that problem, too. But over the past two decades, right up until today, Republicans really are proving themselves to be gold medallists in the race to become a racket.

Joining us now is Thomas Frank, columnist for "Harper`s" magazine, author of the book "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule."

Thomas, how are you?

THOMAS FRANK, HARPER`S MAGAZINE: I`m good. Yourself, Chris?

HAYES: I`m good. So, OK, what do you think of that thesis about that quote, the ark of the `94 Gingrich revolution sort of --

FRANK: I disagree with all that. I mean, you know, I remember exactly where I was when - I was living in Chicago at the time when they came in `94 and `95, and all the stuff about the idealistic freshmen that was the mime in the mass media, the idealistic freshman, they`re so idealistic. I don`t know if you know about this, Chris, but they had great idealists.

And it is not like it took a really long time for them to come in and sell out. They are sold out already. Remember, they believe salesmanship is a virtue. These are people who think that the market is something holy, and that government is a criminal enterprise, OK.

We`re not just talking about -- you know, I grew up around Republicans, there`s a lot of good Republicans in America. We`re talking about true believers in a very strange, you know, pretty right-wing doctrine.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: Ideologues. And the listen that I -- this is the -- I mean, "The Wrecking Crew" is largely about Jack Abramoff`s career. He was really one of this group, although he was a member of Congress. He came to Washington with the freshmen -- the idealistic freshmen in 1994 and stayed here and helped bring them down.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: But the lesson that I kept trying to hammer away at in "The Wrecking Crew" is that in this conservative world, in the world of conservative D.C., you can be an idealist and a boodler (ph) at the same time. They don`t -- they don`t contradict each other.

HAYES: That`s the first time boodler has been said on cable news.


HAYES: So, what you`re saying -- what you`re saying is the racket is the cause. The cause and the racket are one and the same.

FRANK: Yes, conservatism in this town anyway. Look, you go back to place like Wichita or Kansas City, you know, where I`m from and conservatism can be something very idealistic and often something very noble, OK? Here in Washington, D.C., it is an industry. People don`t go into it, you know, because they really, really believe in it. I mean, that`s helpful, of course.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: But it`s also -- it is a lucrative career option. And conservatives themselves say this all the time.

HAYES: OK. So, I want to can ask you this question because I know that if I were -- if I were a conservative watching this, and there is a guy named Tim Carney who I really respect. He writes about these issues a lot from the other side. He`s a conservative. And he says, look, look, the Democrats are the same way. Nancy Pelosi, she is having fundraisers at PhRMA. This is sort -- there`s sort of no difference between the two. I wonder what you think of that.

FRANK: Well, I think you can probably document -- I mean, there is a difference. But there`s also similarities, OK? And I don`t like to let Democrats off the hook.

And you probably used to read me in "The Wall Street Journal." maybe you did, maybe you didn`t. I used to be a columnist there.

And I like -- I went pretty hard on old Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress. I had a lot of fun kicking them around. It was a blast. You know, them and their lobbyist pals, they make me very angry, the Democrats do.

But I think there is a palpable difference. I mean -- hell, I don`t want to come to the Democrats` rescue. But just let me point out you can probably document it in financial terms if you had to. I remember seeing a statistic, OK, in 1995 when the Republicans came in Congress. The price -- the ticket price to a fundraiser leaped overnight by -- it was something like $250 to a $1,000, OK? Overnight when they took power, OK?

Now, why is that? And I thought about that for a long time. What -- in terms of, you know, just simple economic terms, what can explain that, OK? Is it that suddenly, you know, there`s a lot fewer fundraisers and so the price goes? And what I finally, after thinking about this for a really long time, it`s -- no, the only thing that can explain it is the quality of the goods for sale. You think about it.

HAYES: Right. You`re getting more in return. It`s a better investment.


HAYES: So, finally here, I want to ask you: what should we look for as this new Congress is inaugurated? You know, what -- who -- what should we be looking out future as the signs of the next sort of Abramoff or the places where these -- you know, we`re going to see the next great scandals erupt?

FRANK: I think the main thing is to watch the personalities. That stuff that you were showing about the various lobbyists coming in. I mean, that`s a very good canary in the coal mine kind of thing.

And one of the things that I did in "The Wrecking Crew" is go back and look at how the different -- the waves of conservative idealism led to K Street, or led to these awful things. By the way, you know, we shouldn`t just be talking about Congress. Do you remember, this is getting a little far away, do you remember Ollie North?

HAYES: Of course.

FRANK: A very idealistic man.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: I mean, this goes all the way back. This is what the Reagan administration is all about, the George W. Bush administration, and that sort of thing. But keep an eye on what happens with people like Jack Abramoff`s good friend Grover Norquist.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: Well, with these new members of Congress, the idealistic freshmen be going to his meetings again? You know, what about the other members of the Abramoff gang? What about the other members of the wrecking crew? Will they be back in?

(CROSSTALK) HAYES: They`re getting back together.

FRANK: Exactly. Go down to Charlie Palmers (ph) and see what a price on a bottle of Chateau Lafite, what happens to that, you know? There`s a way to gauge it, you know?

HAYES: Tom Frank, columnist for "Harper`s" magazine and also author of "The Wrecking Crew" -- thanks so much. Appreciate it.

FRANK: Sure thing. My pleasure.

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