May 7, 2021 • 1HR 14M

New Useful Idiots: Thomas Frank, Financial Scams & Woke CIA Ads

Also, we semi mis-predict a patent waiver outcome, discuss a sex work ruling, and relive a beaver attack

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Appears in this episode

Matt Taibbi
Useful Idiots is an informative and irreverent politics podcast with journalist Matt Taibbi and podcaster/writer Katie Halper. Episodes feature on-the-road coverage of the 2020 campaign and exclusive interviews, with humor, commentary and dissection of the politics news of the week. Join Matt and Katie as they examine important stories that have slipped through the cracks and what the media got wrong – and laugh about whatever is left to laugh about.
Episode details

Click here for the extended interview.

Useful Idiots returns with friend-of-show and the great not-fully-canceled political author of our time, Thomas Frank.

The author of books like Listen, Liberal and The People, No and What’s the Matter With Kansas in this episode had occasion to draw on the experience of one of his other words, The Conquest of Cool. The discussion started with the viral sensation of the week, the so-called “Woke CIA ad,” which featured a 36-year-old self-described “cisgender millennial who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder” who is “intersectional” and wants you to join the drone-and-snoop crew at Langley. The CIA’s new mascot even worse a t-shirt with a raised fist, echoing Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics — joining the secret services is now an act of countercultural defiance.

Reactions to the ad have been hilarious in all directions, especially from self-serious media organizations who appeared wounded by the Internet’s swift collective ridicule of its tone (The Intercept even published a piece called, “Woke” CIA Ad Is No Reason to Throw Out the Language of Liberation). To Katie and me, it was funny first and foremost, but Tom saw in it a repeat of corporate America’s re-framing of the image of capitalism in the eighties and nineties. By marketing consumerism as a defiant, anti-conformist mode of personal expression, capitalist America surfed on the insouciance and cool of sixties liberation movements rather than being made the victim of them.

The “woke” CIA seems absurd on its face, but it’s the same kind of rebrand, with the agency responsible for droning, torture, and mass surveillance rebooting as an employer willing to speak the “Language of Liberation.” Moreover, it’s one more step in the overhaul of the meaning of “liberalism” that seems destined, as Tom says, to leave even him without a party, sooner or later.

Plus, as Katie predicted, Useful Idiots was able to convince Biden to take a step in the right direction by granting *a* waiver but not *the* waiver.

Stand by for our extended conversation with Thomas, which includes a COVID-19 retrospective.