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Corporations Shouldn’t Be Political Except When They Should


Let’s check in on Fred Hiatt’s latest conservative affirmative action hire and see her would-be gotchas turn into hilarious own goals:

Remember when companies tried to stay out of politics? I’d imagine Delta Air Lines is recalling those days very fondly. The airline bowed to pressure from liberal activists to stop offering a group discount to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. Now it’s facing a backlash from Georgia Republicans. Given that Delta’s headquarters and biggest hub are in Atlanta, that’s a big problem.

Delta is wanly protesting that it wasn’t trying to make a political statement but to keep out of politics altogether. But it ended the discount in response to a political pressure campaign. And the company made a point of announcing its decision on Twitter, rather than quietly informing the NRA. If anyone at Delta thought that this wouldn’t be taken as a swipe at the NRA, that person really needs to make some time to meet a few human beings while visiting our planet.

So, to summarize:

  • Giving special discounts to members of an increasingly extremist political organization: not political
  • Treating members of this organization the same as other customers: political

This of course makes no sense whatsoever. Delta is making a political decision either way, and to the extent that there’s a less “political” decision, it’s the decision to treat NRA members like typical customers rather than giving them special privileges.  This is a classic case of treating the position of white conservatives as the default, “apolitical” position, with any deviation from it being “political.”

Why are we so eager to enlist companies in political battles? Ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision struck down key parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance legislation, progressives have been angrily deriding conservatives for supposedly believing that “corpor­ations are people.” But if public corpor­ations are not people, why should they have political opinions?

The conservertarian bullshit artists who represent views with little mass constituency but who are massively overrepresented on the nation’s op-ed pages because their views are more congenial than more orthodox conservatives to the kinds of educated elites who generally become editors at major publications love this kind of “neener neener CHECKMATE LIBS!” argument, and they almost never notice that the arguments cut both ways and in general much more against them.   I agree that there are bad liberal arguments about corporations being treated as legal persons, which is obviously necessary for certain reasons (it would not in fact be legal for the Department of Justice to have suppressed the publication of Clinton Cash, and Harper should have standing to challenge any such suppression.) But it’s also not a very interesting argument; that corporations have constitutionally protected speech interests hardly requires the the sweeping conclusion that virtually all restrictions on corporate campaign spending are unconstitutional (cf. virtually every other liberal democracy.) But the bigger problem here is that McArdle does support Citizens United.  So on the one hand, we’re supposed to be OUTRAGED by Delta deciding to treat NRA members the way it treats other customers, but corporations spending gobs of money (primarily to elect Republicans), well ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. These arguments collapse on themselves like a tenement in a city McArdle would praise for not having building codes whose enforcement might consume resources that could be used for an upper-class tax cut.  

In other words, she’s doing the job she was hired to do.

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