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Wall Street Comes Home

In 2007 and 2008, Wall Street pooh-bahs, like most Americans, were disgusted with the Republican Party and looking for a change. Many of them donated to Barack Obama's presidential campaign -- which, after all, was advised by the same sort of people who had presided over the 1990s boom. In 2008 to 2009, the embrace actually tightened. The collapse of the financial industry briefly brought its interests into alignment with those of the economy as a whole -- preventing wholesale collapse required bailing out Wall Street. Meanwhile, Republicans took the lead in attacking the bailout, driving Wall Street closer to the administration. Conservatives clearly relished the spectacle of financial barons who supported Democrats, as evidenced by articles like this (subscription-only) in National Review entitled "Losing Gordon Gekko."

Now that the financial industry is back on its feet, its interests have diverged with those of the broader economy. The Democrats are proposing regulation to prevent Wall Street from again growing too big to fail, and picking a fight with the financial industry.

The conservative line is that this is all a sham. The Democrats and Wall Street are in bed, and anything they propose will just fatten their bottom line. Here's Tim Carney, whose populist attacks on Obama have made him a rising star on the right:

The Wall Street flood of cash to Democrats is not simply about buttering up those in power -- a closer look at the cash looks like Wall Street wants Democrats to win. ...

But everyone who opposes the bank tax -- which, of course, the banks will just pass it through to customers -- will be tarred by the Democratic machine as siding with Wall Street over Main Street. Same with Obama's proposed financial regulations, even though they would institutionalize bailouts by dubbing Goldman Sachs and its ilk "Tier One Financial Institutions."

The press will follow Obama's rhetoric over the coming months, and paint him as the scourge of Wall Street. It's more illuminating, though, to follow the legislation -- and follow the money.

That's the right's theory of the case. Now here's the reality, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Republicans are stepping up their campaign to win donations from Wall Street, trying to capitalize on an increasing sense of regret among executives at big financial institutions for backing Democrats in 2008.

In discussions with Wall Street executives, Republicans are striving to make the case that they are banks' best hope of preventing President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats from cracking down on Wall Street.

GOP strategists hope to benefit from the reaction to the White House's populist rhetoric and proposals, which range from sharp critiques of bonuses to a tax on big Wall Street banks, caps on executive pay and curbs on business practices deemed too risky.

The conservative/libertarian analysis was always pretty heavily overstated -- if the Democrats were completely in Wall Street's pocket, they would have been proposing capital gains tax cuts, opposing all regulation, and many other things. the relationship even at its height was am uneasy working partnership rather than a full-blown alliance. But now even that is totally off. And we're left with a series of events -- Democrats rhetorically attacking Wall Street, Democrats proposing taxes and regulation on Wall Street that Wall Street bitterly opposes, Wall Street shifting its donations back to Republicans -- that the right-wing populist analysis is utterly unable to explain.