Progressives Demand More Corporate Influence over the Political Process | National Review

Progressives Demand More Corporate Influence over the Political Process | National Review

The water tower at The Walt Disney Company’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif., February 7, 2011 (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Earlier this week, Disney employees staged a walkout prompted by something that is seemingly unrelated to Disney — a forthcoming law in Florida that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity before the fourth grade. Calling on Disney to “do better,” the protestors want the megacorporation to use its economic might to influence the political process in Florida. Their hope is that withholding campaign contributions and pausing all construction in the state will cause elected leaders to reorder their priorities, aligning them more toward Disney and less toward the average voter.

The gambit will not succeed. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is made of sterner stuff. Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget in this era of “woke capitalism” how bizarre the Disney protest would seem to an observer from, say, 2005 or earlier. I’m old enough to remember the standard progressive view that corporations are an antidemocratic and therefore malign influence on the political process. They block elected representatives from addressing the real desires of voters by manipulating campaign contributions and threatening to relocate development projects. That Congress is “corporate-controlled territory” was progressive icon Ralph Nader’s stump speech. His admirers said that democracy itself was imperiled or even broken because of corporate meddling.

Oddly, we still hear some of the same critiques of corporations from the left, but they now exist alongside a progressive-business alliance that openly acts in exactly the antidemocratic ways that Naderites once condemned. Progressives have been pressuring corporations to leverage their economic power against the choices of ordinary voters (often with success). Progressive-corporate influence is so pervasive that “aren’t you concerned about the local business climate?” is a standard objection to almost any public initiative that offends left-wing identity groups.

As troubling as woke capitalism can be, it is at least clarifying in one respect. For years, progressive critics of corporate influence have couched their objections in terms of process. The purpose of restraining moneyed interests is to make democracy function better, they would say. It’s the will of the voters — whatever it might be, they insisted —  that should be expressed through the political system. But, as with most activist groups, progressives’ commitment to process turned out to be paper-thin. Now that they can harness corporate influence for their own ends, high-minded concerns about democracy take a backseat to the exercise of raw power.

Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.