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The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing Hardcover – September 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"Greg Anrig's wide-ranging and perceptive book looks beyond the ideology of the right and offers a persuasive account of the many policy failures that have emerged out of the conservative movement. Anrig has put the Bush administration and the right to a test that they themselves have carefully avoided. He has held them accountable not for their ideas, but for their performance."--Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of History, Columbia University

"Ending the conservative era requires organizing, yes, but also hard thinking and shrewd analysis. When progressives of the future look back at how they triumphed, one of the people they’ll thank is Greg Anrig. Drawing inspiration from the work of the early neo-conservatives who demolished public support for liberal programs, Anrig casts a sharp eye on conservative ideas and nostrums and shows that many of them simply don’t work because they are rooted more in ideological dreams than in reality. Facts are stubborn things, Ronald Reagan once said, and Anrig makes good use of them in this important and engaging book." --E. J. Dionne, syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics

From the Inside Flap

Tax cuts that produce gargantuan budget deficits, an ill-conceived war that has diminished America's ability to defend itself, the quiet evisceration of laws that protect public health, safety, and the environment—after six years of virtually absolute conservative rule, the results of nearly every right-wing policy, program, and initiative can be summed up in a single word: failure. How could a vast, carefully constructed political movement, which so recently patted itself on the back for winning "the war of ideas," be so utterly feckless when it comes to governing the nation?

In The Conservatives Have No Clothes, the respected policy expert and journalist Greg Anrig offers a scathing indictment of right-wing ideology and reveals point by point how and why the conservative agenda produces terrible government. In a series of devastating critiques, he examines ideas and policies espoused by the right and assesses the degree to which they have delivered (or not) on promises to make America stronger and safer, and our government smaller and more efficient.

According to Anrig, conservatives have developed an unusual—and unusually disastrous—method of governing. The first step is to drown out attention paid to a genuine policy problem, like abysmal inner-city schools or Osama bin Laden, with alarms over an imaginary crisis like the failure of all of America's public schools or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The second step is to trump up reasons why the imaginary problem requires weakening the government's domestic capabilities, as with private school vouchers, or exerting unilateral force abroad, as with the Iraq invasion. The third step is to make up stories explaining why the failure isn't really a failure. The fourth and final step is to leave it to the Democrats to solve both the original problem and the new one created by the conservative policy.

Anrig documents the impact of this sophisticated sabotage on the performance of numerous government agencies, including FEMA, which reverted from a model praised by both parties in the 1990s back into a "turkey farm" for political loyalists under the managerial practices promoted by conservative think tanks. The disastrously inept response to Hurricane Katrina was the result not just of incompetence, but of the right's ideology. Anrig also shows how movement conserva-tism's ideas have inflicted damage on state and local government, causing Colorado's national rankings in education and health care to plummet to the bottom under the constraints of Grover Norquist's holy grail, the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights.

Despite their decisive defeat in the 2006 elections, right-wing ideologues show no sign of calling off their war on American government. The Conservatives Have No Clothes offers more than a powerful condemnation of their past offenses; it is a field guide for assessing and responding to whatever they come up with next.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470044365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470044360
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,763,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Jeff S. on September 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was eager to read this book as soon as I first heard about it from a "book club" discussion involving Greg Anrig on the "TPM Cafe" blog site. To paraphrase Yeats, the fundamental problem with American politics today is that those with the best ideas lack all conviction, and those with the worst (and provably failed) ideas are "full of passionate intensity." This book is an essential step toward fixing that. Progressives need to highlight conservatism's unending failures much, much more often than they do; it is just bizarre that, today, we've got the political heirs of Herbert Hoover making economic policy, the heirs of Jim Crow segregationists (if not the old segregationists themselves) making social policy, the Bible-thumping last holdouts against modern biology making cultural and science policy, and the heirs of Gen. Edwin Walker and the John Birchers making foreign and military policy. If more people recognized those continuities, conservatives would have no credibility whatsoever, and wouldn't be able to continue holding the power that allows them to keep on repeating versions of the same idiotic mistakes (Iraq, Katrina, etc.). Anrig's book is a blow struck against this historical amnesia. Plus he's a very good writer. If you want to understand why so many things have been going wrong, and/or want to be better armed for political arguments with conservatives, you really should read this.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are a number of books denouncing the idiocies that pass for right-wing policy making, but most make the case in broad strokes and rarely penetrate beneath the headlines. Anrig's book is the first I've seen that really builds the detailed case. His book goes issue-by-issue, agency-by-agency, deep into the third and fourth layers of policy-making and execution. FEMA, charter schools, regulatory disasters, tax giveaways -- they're all here, along with the politicization and corruption of the process and the demoralization of the people in the trenches who try to make government work. It's a powerful case, crisply and clearly written.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By BevD on September 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Not just Progressives, but every American who wonders where it all went wrong in this country and wants to make it right, should read this book.

Anrig describes for us the ideas of American Twentieth Century conservatism and the failure of the movement to move beyond the most facile and superficial arguments to provide an intellectual and honest base for their philosophy. While conservatives are experts at setting up progressive strawmen and batting them around (and have in fact a cottage industry which endlessly churns them out) they've failed to offer any substantial arguments to support their ideas - because, as Anrig so clearly points out, there are none.

Greg Anrig, in his exceptionally well written book, has given the progressive movement and all Americans the answer to the question, "how did we lose our way?" and more importantly, tells us how to find a way forward.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By AmericanDreamer on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read a lot on current affairs but have not come across a book like this. In one place, across a wide range of policy issues (such as education, health care, Social Security, disaster management, the Iraq war, and federal tax, spending and regulatory polices), Greg Anrig sets forth the policies favored and enacted by movement conservatives, the rationale for those policies, and the evidence on their results. He does all of this in a way that is thorough, fair, well documented, and accessible--and devastating. Notwithstanding the focus on the mistakes of individual government officials, Anrig argues that the results of the policies put into law have been awful, yet inevitable because the ideas and thinking underlying them has been fatally flawed.

A word about the reviewer who gave this book one star. It is most helpful to have people reviewing books who do not agree with their conclusions. That said, the claim made by this reviewer that Anrig fails to offer positive ideas as to what should be done in these various policy areas to get better results is simply false. It leaves me wondering if the reviewer read the book, or is simply being intellectually dishonest. Clearly implied or stated explicitly in every chapter are Anrig's conclusions as to what better policy would look like. Disagree with those views if you wish. But don't give the book a trash rating on the basis of a demonstrably false view about its supposed shortcomings.

This is no cheap, drive-by hit job. Anrig is fair and civil to those with whom he disagrees, qualities which seem too rare in our current season of discontent. Polls show roughly 7 in 10 Americans believe our country is on the wrong track. I recommend this book to readers who want to get a better sense of how that has happened. Bad ideas put into policy do have consequences.
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