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The Memo: Politics upended as top Republicans slam corporate America
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has lashed out at corporations involving themselves in politics this week - a development that makes it seem as if politics has entered an alternative reality.
For his entire career, McConnell has been assiduous in courting big business and has been a staunch defender of corporate interests.
He has been a stalwart opponent of campaign finance reform and, roughly a decade ago, expressed approval of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. The court's 2010 ruling bestowed upon corporations many of the rights to free speech enjoyed by individual citizens and loosened restrictions on political donations.
But now McConnell's ire has been sparked by major Georgia-based corporations, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, that have criticized new voting laws passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R).
The regulations, which pare back the number of drop boxes available for early voting and make it a misdemeanor to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote, have been compared to Jim Crow-era suppression measures by critics.
Defenders argue that the laws are being misrepresented. But that has not been enough to quell the chorus of criticism. In the most high-profile rebuke, Major League Baseball has moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.
In a statement on Monday, McConnell complained that "parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government." He also warned that businesses "will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country."
At a press conference in his native Kentucky on Tuesday, McConnell again warned business to "stay out of politics."
Democrats are agog at what they consider a blatant double-standard - an erstwhile champion of big business like McConnell now expressing horror at corporate meddling.
"I haven't had a laugh that good in a while," said Dick Harpootlian, a Democratic state senator in South Carolina who also sat on the finance committee for President Biden's campaign last year.
"Apparently McConnell and these guys are decrying the influence of corporations but not their money? I don't understand where the line is. They can pack your pockets with cash, but they can't talk to you or try to persuade you?" Harpootlian added.
McConnell is far from the only Republican to bash business in recent days, however.
Former President Trump released a statement on Tuesday morning complaining that the law that passed the Georgia legislature should have been even tougher.
"Boycott all of the woke companies that don't want Voter I.D. and Free and Fair Elections," the former president demanded.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the MLB decision "absolutely ridiculous" during a Fox News interview. Addressing businesses in his own state, Abbott warned, "They need to stay out of politics, especially when they have no clue."
But for all the incongruity of the party of big business venting fury on the corporate world, those same Republican politicians are at least in tune with their supporters' feelings.
Conservatives have long felt that the entertainment industry in particular has disparaged their values and sought to shift social mores in a liberal direction. The media, they contend, is also permeated by a liberal ethos.
Now, they fear that big business is joining that push - or is simply allowing itself to be cowed by left-leaning groups.
"The left have become louder online and they have become very good at the kind of pressure campaigns that make companies nervous," said Matt Gorman, a GOP strategist and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "A lot of times companies mistake online chatter for actual public opinion."
Gorman also contended that accusations of hypocrisy can cut both ways.
Asked about perceived double-standards on the part of figures such as McConnell, he responded, "No more so than people who are normally trying to restrict corporations' political beliefs all of a sudden believing they have such an important role in the debate."
There is, clearly, a widespread conservative fury at the corporations' actions pertaining to the Georgia laws.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which almost always faithfully reflects corporatist views, complained last week that: "The public debate on Georgia's new voting law has become a stew of falsehood, propaganda and panic. Part of the blame lies with the partisan distortion of Democrats, part with their media echoes, and now part with CEOs of major companies who are uninformed at best or cowardly at worst."
About the only thing that seems certain for now is that corporations will face their own challenges as they try to navigate a polarized nation. Virtually any political stance, toward the right or the left, is guaranteed to provoke howls of protest from the other side.
And even Democrats like Harpootlian acknowledge that businesses are always motivated by the bottom line, even when they are professing noble-sounding values.
"Their constituency is customers," he said. "I would like to attribute it to some kind of corporate altruism ... but it's a financial decision. Delta Air Lines doesn't want people boycotting their airline and Coca-Cola doesn't want people going to Pepsi. And there are a lot more people concerned about citizens' right to vote being restricted than they are about Trump and McConnell and Abbott whining."
For now, the corporations' stance has another powerful defender.
"It's reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up about how these new Jim Crow laws are just antithetical to who we are," Biden said on Tuesday afternoon.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.