Getting Down to Big Business: A Conservative American Romance

tags: Republican Party, conservatism, Wall Street, big business



Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America,

Yesterday, for the first of three posts on the romance between business and the political right, I wrote about what some historians call “the golden age of capitalism,” which, as far as our governmental arrangements are concerned, was also a golden age of liberalism. In the years after World War II, coincident with America’s decades-long economic boom, even the nation’s top corporate executives seemed to buy into the Keynesian consensus that the best way to assure their own firms’ prosperity was to put money in the pockets of ordinary Americans.

Then, suddenly, they didn’t—my subject for today.

Here’s an irony of the history of conservatism’s relationship with business and business’s relationship with conservatism: “Wall Street” used to be the right-wing industrialists of the forties and fifties’ greatest term of derision. (Wall Street was the place that humiliated them by forcing them, hat in hand, to beg for capital.) Phyllis Schlafly wrote of the “Wall Street kingmakers” who controlled the Republican Party like dictators, forcing on it “liberal” nominees (like the financier Wendell Willkie), the kind of people who read the liberal Republican flagship organ the New York Herald-Tribune. Wall Street liked Lyndon Johnson. It tolerated unions. And, as long as the postwar boom was still booming, it accepted business’s relatively subordinate role in federal policy making. Which of course drove the 1950s and ’60s versions of Tea Partiers—I’ve called them “Manionites.”

Then, lo, the boom bust....



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