"Groups," "Taxes," "Big Government,"
and "Special Interests"
THE EMERGENCE of a policy-based, right-of-center presidential majority grew out of the conflation of intensified racial tension, the tax revolt, and one of the most significant developments since the Great Depression—a major economic downturn clearly associated with the Democratic party. Not only was the Depression securely identified with Herbert Hoover's Republican party, but the recessions of the 1950s and early 1970s were tied to the Eisenhower and Nixon-Ford administrations, reinforcing a twentieth-century link between the GOP and periods of high unemployment.
In the late 1970s, the Democratic party was in full command of the federal government and fully empowered to set the public agenda. Organized labor, a major ally of the Democratic party, was firmly entrenched in the nation's steel mills and auto plants. Neither the Democratic party nor the nation's most powerful unions were able, however, to stop the loss of 207,000 jobs in the primary metals industries, the loss of 182,000 jobs in fabricated metals, or of 280,000 jobs making motor vehicles and equipment—a combined total loss between July 1979 and July 1980 of 669,000 jobs in these industries alone. 1
In this context, the recession of 1981-82 was an integral part of a larger industrial and social upheaval—an upheaval accompanied by a decade in the 1970s of unprecedented rates of unemployment, inflation, interest, and taxation—all defying traditional Democratic interpretation or solution.