Thomas Frank

Though he lives near the Beltway, What's the Matter With Kansas? author Thomas Frank is more than passingly familiar with our mossy corner of the country. In his new book, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (Metropolitan, $25), he cites local Tea Party activist Keli Carender's "Take my money!" assault on Congressman Norm Dicks three years back, a YouTube moment that signaled an abrupt shift in GOP tactics. After the Republicans' sweeping 2008 electoral losses, Frank argues, the party adapted an aggrieved tone of "market populism"—as if it were Wall Street bankers, not Tom Joad, being driven out of the Dustbowl. Excess government, not deregulation, was suddenly the cause of the financial crash. He describes former Congressman Brian Baird being shouted down as a Nazi at another Tea Party ambush (one reason, perhaps, Baird declined to run again). And later, while researching this book, Frank finds himself up in Port Townsend, pondering how the term "socialist" has been redefined to mean anyone who can't afford lobbyists or a super PAC. Pity the Billionaire is, admittedly, a clip job, and one that spends too many of its (few) pages debunking Glenn Beck and Atlas Shrugged. Its real villains are the oligarchs now passing themselves off as John Does in pursuit of ever more tax breaks and even less government oversight. There's a fitting irony to the location of Frank's Port Townsend studies: a Carnegie library, funded by that once-despised billionaire of the pre-income tax era. To which, of course, the Koch brothers would like to return. Only without the libraries. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., Jan. 19, 7 p.m., 2012

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