In a presidential campaign pivoting on the assumption that corporate America rules America, we should remember that the perceptions and reality of corporate control have fluctuated wildly over the years. William Jennings Bryan’s supporters cried “Let the People Rule!” in 1908. Franklin Roosevelt bashed “economic royalists” in 1936. Surprisingly, the president remembered as a placid, golf-playing, aging, Republican corporate shill, Dwight Eisenhower, fought Big Oil in the 1950s—and won.
Eisenhower’s showdown with the oilmen was particularly surprising because some of his best friends were petro-millionaires. Like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and other poor boys who became Commander-in-chief, Eisenhower enjoyed hobnobbing with rich people. Not only could these friends invite him to pop down to Georgia for 36 hours of quail hunting on 3,000 acre plantations, there was also something both humbling and exhilarating about hanging out with with men who had succeeded in the one realm he never mastered, business.
Still, Eisenhower’s friends boasted that they never asked their friend for favors. And Eisenhower, a proud American patriot, did what was best for the country.
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