The Left’s Love-Hate Relationship With Corporate Speech


Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  hallux  •  2 weeks ago  •  2 comments

By:   Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic

The Left’s Love-Hate Relationship With Corporate Speech
Progressives and conservatives have changed their attitudes toward corporate political and cultural power.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

I n a bygone era , Americans could be confident that conservatives, like the former General Electric   pitchman Ronald Reagan , were friendlier to corporations than their ideological opponents, and that the most aggressive efforts to rein in corporate power were coming from the left.

Today, the relationship that the American left and right each have with Big Business is different. When corporations advance voting rights or acceptance of gays and lesbians, or oppose racism or laws that restrict the ability of trans people to use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable, many progressives are happy to see corporate power exerted as a counter to majorities in state legislatures or even views held by a majority of voters in red states. And some Republicans who pass socially conservative measures into law, like Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, have responded to corporate opposition with   retaliatory rhetoric and actions   that cast dissenting corporate speech as illegitimate and antidemocratic.

These changing relationships to corporate power are shaped by the left’s increasing focus on race and gender relative to class and by the rise of populism on the right. They also reflect the never-ending push and pull between public and private power that is found in all healthy free societies. Politicians on both sides of the aisle sometimes get overzealous in the behavior they try to restrict. Though the right and the left both lose sight of this whenever a company takes a stand they don’t like, non-state actors—including corporations—play an important role in tempering excesses of the state. Absent such counterweights to state power, liberty would be at greater risk.

The right has long understood the value of corporate speech when defending free markets and economic liberty. The left now appreciates it more clearly on social issues.

To understand all that has recently changed, recall the world as it looked during President Barack Obama’s first term. Before Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement or mainstream support for trans rights or the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracies, Occupy Wall Street was the focus of grassroots energy on the left. Bernie Sanders, the senator most aligned with that protest movement, introduced a constitutional amendment with radical implications. Constitutional rights “are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations,” it  declared  in part. On the contrary, corporations are “subject to regulation by the people through the legislative process,” it continued, “so long as such regulations are consistent with the powers of Congress and the States and do not limit the freedom of the press.”

Sanders’s attempt to end corporate influence on politics by stripping corporations of free-speech rights was a response to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in   Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission , which said that First Amendment rights extend to corporations. “If the First Amendment has any force,” the majority held, “it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

Many progressives were furious about   Citizens United . If corporations have the same free-speech rights as people, the decision’s opponents argued, they will be free to marshal power and resources far greater than most people to influence American democracy, calling the integrity of government by the people into question. Conservatives, in turn, argued that corporations were invariably made up of many people, just like labor unions and think tanks and foundations and institutions of higher education. Why should the state have more power to censor associations of people than individuals?

Of course, Sanders and his allies never came close to amending the Constitution and overturning   Citizens United . But if they had, I wonder how the left would feel about the change now, as Republican politicians go after companies that take progressive stands.

This brings us back to one of the most powerful state officials opposed to progressivism, DeSantis, who pushed the Parental Rights in Education Act through the Florida legislature last year. Progressives called it a “Don’t Say Gay” bill and were   upset   with Disney, the most powerful corporation in Florida, for declining to use its power in the fight against the bill. Blasted by progressive activists, socially liberal employees, and left-of-center journalists and celebrities, who objected to the corporation’s disinclination to influence the political process, Disney reversed course. The company declared that it   would   use its corporate speech to advocate for the law’s repeal while giving millions of dollars to political opponents of the law.

DeSantis was apoplectic, responding as if corporate political advocacy and political giving were affronts to representative democracy. “You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state,” DeSantis  said , sounding a bit like Sanders. “We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that.”

Thus began a campaign by DeSantis to   retaliate   against Disney for its political speech. That retaliation ultimately caused Disney to file   a lawsuit   alleging a violation of the First Amendment rights that the corporation enjoys, rights affirmed in that 2010   Citizens United   decision––rights that Sanders and others tried and failed to strip from corporations. Because Sanders failed, the GOP is far more limited now in how much it can constrain what the right calls “woke capital.” Just like “woke” persons, “woke” corporations have free-speech rights (and the right to   shift jobs away   from any state where the political leadership is not to their liking).

And if the Disney lawsuit goes to the Supreme Court, many progressives will be rooting for the corporation’s victory––rooting, in effect, for the   Citizens United   precedent to stand––in part because the most common progressive view in 2023 is not that corporations should stay out of the American political process but that corporations are obligated to intervene on the side of progressives. As Joni Madison, then the interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest LGBTQ-advocacy organizations in the United States, put it during the legislative fight in Florida, “We need Disney’s partnership in getting the bills heading to DeSantis’s desk vetoed. And if that doesn’t happen, to get these bills repealed. But this is not just about Bob Chapek [then the CEO of Disney] and Disney. This is about every CEO and company in America.”


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Senior Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    2 weeks ago

The pendulum is undoubtedly swinging and how far it will is beyond my abhorrence for predicting, but invested with the wisdom that every day is Tuesday, it will happen on a news dump Friday. 

Professor Principal
2  Kavika     2 weeks ago

As the ideology of the parties changes much like they did in the 1960s we are seeing strange bedfellows.

Currently, Florida is the number one battlefield and the outcomes will, IMO have a huge affect on America.


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