Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies

Steve Fraser writes:

The collapse of the New Deal coalition opened a door. Through it walked Richard Nixon. Judith Stein examines the strategy that aimed at making the Republicans the party of the white working class. It was an audacious political move that took advantage of the racial, nationalist, religious and patriarchal resentments and fears unleashed by the 1960s – civil rights, black power and ghetto insurrections, women’s and gay liberation, anti-war protest and defeat in Vietnam, the War on Poverty, affirmative action and busing – and used them to transmute class grievances into cultural ones, resulting in a white working-class version of identity politics. The attempt to win over the white working class – given real impetus by George Wallace’s campaigns for the presidency in 1964 and 1968 – was well underway by the time of Nixon’s first victory, but given the downward arc of the economy in the 1970s the strategy was invaluable. With a political economy of scarcity supplanting one of abundance, Republicans and their allies in big business could have anticipated a quite different – and dangerous – reaction from the working class.

(LRB 17 March 2011)