Michiko Kakutani Jets In from the Late 1800s to Smack Around Thomas Frank

When you read the New York Times, it’s often hard to tell whether we’re living in 2008 or during the Chester Arthur administration. For instance, Michiko Kakutani’s review of Thomas Frank’s book The Wrecking Crew apparently was xeroxed from reviews the Times was giving of similar books during the mid-Gilded Age:

…hectoring…highly partisan, Manichaean-minded…screed…comes across as a sort of parody…in love with big government…opposed to all manner of capitalism…strident, impatient…undermines the possibility of a sober, nonpartisan discussion…antiquated…dubious…

Also: god damn that Samuel Gompers!

But this is the best part:

Mr. Frank does not help himself by relying on fuzzy — and poorly documented — illustrations of his theories. He writes, for instance, that in 2004 “a group of the country’s largest companies reportedly paid some unnamed K Street firm $1.6 million to secure a tiny modification of the tax code; once the law was rewritten in accordance with their wishes — and with almost no public notice — they saved $100 billion in taxes, an amount which you and I will eventually have to replace in the public treasury.” He adds that if you do the math, “you will find that the rate of return these companies made on their lobbying investment was some six million percent”…He does not say, however, which companies paid which lobbying firm the money, nor does he describe which modification of the tax code was involved.

This is correct; Frank “does not say” any of these things. However, he does employ a literary convention known as a “footnote,” which directs you to a long front-page Washington Post article which includes all the exciting details.

Michiko Kakutani has an English degree from Yale. Whether her education was a catastrophic failure, or worked exactly as intended, is a judgment you’ll have to make yourself.