Eisenhower is credited with steering a course between ideological extremes, his “presidency of consolidation” implying that his economic policy traced a smooth, unitary path. Instead, I argue that his is a twofold legacy. Eisenhower's most frequently cited actions, such as modifying Social Security and unemployment insurance, involved moderating the pace but maintaining the direction of past policy. But in relation to the New Deal labor policy regime, his actions carried a quite different developmental significance. When it came to the federal government's posture toward unions and labor organizing, Eisenhower reversed both the direction of policy and the future capacity of institutions to fulfill the New Deal's goals. As with any presidency, the first two years of Eisenhower's term were crucial in setting the agenda and determining priorities. Two initiatives, amending the Taft-Hartley Act and shaping the membership and decisions of the National Labor Relations Board, show how Eisenhower's ideas and policy tactics developed. The success of his administrative strategy had the effect of consolidating the potential inherent in the Taft-Hartley Act and—long before Reagan's “war on labor”—altering the developmental trajectory of the political economy of labor policy.
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