In 2009, as the United States entered the seventeenth month of its Great Re-
cession, some 15 million American workers were jobless. With the burst of
the housing bubble, the economy shrank by percent in its fifth consecutive
year of decline. People bought fewer cars, computers, and furniture. Facto-
ries were closing across the country. Comparisons to the Great Depression
and the New Deal abounded, but there were a few more recent references
by which people and policymakers could make sense of the crisis and pos-
si ble ways out of it.1 Then, on 30 April, the government announced the take-
over of General Motors and Chrysler as part of an effort to protect them from
shutdown and to prevent the cascade effect that such closures would have on
economic activity and employment. That morning, the conservative radio host
Rush Limbaugh presented this news to his audience with the following dec-
laration: “In a few short minutes, the president of the United States, Barack
Perón, will announce his Argentinean- like takeover of Chrysler.”2
Most likely, Limbaugh’s American audience were not familiar with Juan
Perón or with what he did in Argentina in the 1940s. But in 2009, the name
“Perón” still could stand for something liable to enrage Limbaugh’s listeners
about Obama’s approach to the crisis. If Limbaugh’s invocation made sense at
least to him and his followers, it was largely because Perón’s name conveyed
a set of meanings and images: power for unions, industrial workers, wealth
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