Conservatism’s increasingly uneasy relationship with “corporate America”

I wrote below about yesterday’s meeting at which leaders of the technology industry urged President Obama to alter America’s electronic surveillance policy in order to advance their business interests. The meeting brought to mind Lenin’s alleged statement that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”

The meeting also brought to mind an excellent article by John Fonte about the relationship between big business and the Republican Party.

Fonte states his thesis as follows:

It is time to reexamine the relationship between big business and the American center-right. While corporate America has a close relationship with the Republican party generally, its engagement with American conservatism is fraught with complications. Business leaders and conservatives often join forces for pragmatic gain on significant issues such as Obamacare, taxes, trade policy, cap-and-trade proposals, and other environmental and government regulations. This issue-by-issue alliance is tactically useful to both groups and no doubt will (and should) continue.

Republicans as a party, however, and conservatives specifically, should not be subservient to corporate interests on core issues. The American electorate must come to view Republicans as the party of the middle class rather than the courtiers of big business. The GOP “brand” must change. While conservatives and business will remain part of a broad center-right coalition, the key question is: On what terms, and who calls the shots?

Fonte points to areas of tension between conservatism and big business’s perceived interests, beginning with national security:

One of the big internal fights in the Reagan administration pitted business interests against national-security conservatives. In the 1970s, hundreds of major corporations as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers had joined to form a private pro-trade group, the U.S.-USSR Trade and Economic Council (USTEC).

While conservative hawks wanted to curb the flow of military-use items to Communist countries, USTEC lobbied to remove barriers to Soviet trade. The group opposed, for example, the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which placed trade limits on certain Communist-bloc countries that restricted emigration, as the USSR did with Jews and Evangelical Christians.

As I’ve said, Lenin didn’t know the half of it.

The divergence between big business interests and the views of national security conservatives is deeper now than it was in Reagan’s time because big business has gone “global” to a much greater degree. As Fonte explains:

I have been using the term “corporate America,” but this moniker is something of a misnomer in an age when executives are increasingly “post-American” and major businesses almost always identify themselves as global ventures. Not untypical are comments from the vice president of Coca-Cola, who said in a speech in 2005, “We are not an American company,” and from a top Colgate-Palmolive executive, who in 1989 said, “There is no mindset [at Colgate] that puts this country [the United States] first.”

Speaking to Atlantic reporter Chrystia Freeland in 2011, a U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds described an internal debate at his company. One of his senior colleagues had suggested that the “hollowing out of the American middle class didn’t really matter,” the CEO told Freeland, adding: “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and [that] meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade.”. . . .

Not surprisingly, the Chamber of Commerce and leading corporations are currently supporting the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty strongly opposed by Senate conservatives, who argue that UNCLOS would undermine American sovereignty and establish a global regulatory system in which the U.N. would receive direct tax revenues for the first time. Corporate elites approve the global regulations in the treaty because these regulations, they believe, would be good for business.

There are, of course, areas other than foreign and national security policy in which the interests of conservatives (understood in the Reagan sense) and big business diverge. “Diversity” is a great example, as anyone who has spent time in big business or its handmaiden big law knows only too well.

A major weapon in the Left’s continuing campaign to “fundamentally transform America,” as Candidate Obama so memorably promised to do, is what I call the coercive diversity project. This is the ongoing effort to use federal power to impose proportional representation along race, gender, and ethnic lines in all aspects of American life. . . .

Ensuring that each group is represented in each endeavor in the correct demographic proportion would require a degree of government coercion incompatible with a free society. Yet, with strong support from the business community, the coercive diversity project has advanced steadily for decades. . . . .

Corporate America was present at the creation of the coercive diversity project. Business executives provided funds and political support and collaborated with activists in promoting “diversity.” Most significantly, they helped blunt opposition from principled conservatives.

In The Diversity Machine, sociologist Fred Lynch details how corporations teamed up with progressives to fight the Reagan Justice Department’s attempt to end group preferences based on race, ethnicity, and gender. Attorney General Edwin Meese met strong resistance from the business community. The Reagan administration surveyed 127 chief executives of large corporations and found that 95 percent “planned to use numerical objectives to track the progress of women and minorities . . . regardless of government requirements.”

When Ward Connerly led a series of successful statewide referenda opposing the use of group preferences in education and employment, business interests fought him at every turn and poured money into the leftist campaigns to stop his efforts. After his successful initiative in the State of Washington in 1998, Connerly wrote: “The most significant obstacle we faced in the Washington campaign was not the media . . . but the corporate world. . . . Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, Starbucks, Costco, Microsoft, and Eddie Bauer all made huge donations to the [opposition]. . . .

In the most significant Supreme Court case on the coercive diversity project, Grutter v. Bollinger, in 2003, corporate America weighed in heavily on the side of mandated proportional representation and racial preferences. Sixty-five Fortune 500 companies. . .submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative-action admissions program, which was being challenged by Barbara Grutter, a white woman whose law-school application the school had denied. The majority (5–4) decision, written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, cited the Fortune 500 brief as evidence that major American businesses had made it clear that they supported the diversity project.

(Emphasis added)

Immigration reform is another excellent example of big business trying to lead conservatives astray. It is here that Fonte thinks conservatives should make their stand:

Let us begin the re-branding, as Jeff Sessions suggests, with conservatives and the GOP vigorously and unapologetically opposing all legislation that increases low-skilled immigration and denouncing “comprehensive immigration reform” for what it is: class warfare waged by an unholy alliance of Obama, progressive elites, and big business against the well-being and way of life of the American middle and working classes.

I couldn’t agree more.

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