“The business of America is business,” said Calvin Coolidge, a few years before the Great Depression. In the worst economic downturn since then, Barack Obama won the White House after a campaign in which he made it clear, to what might be described as populist delight, that he was not a friend to corporations. In what was probably his most closely followed (and generally praised) speech, given in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008, he singled out one group for particular condemnation:
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze—a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.
Here was a view of business and corporations fit for pure demagoguery—the suggestion that the country’s current financial woes are owing to trading on inside information, deceptive accounting, and the profit motive itself. This was made even clearer toward the end of that speech, as candidate Obama suggested what he thought all Americans ought to be discussing as they chose the next president:
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes...