Saturday, August 11, 2012

Separating Product and Politics

GLBT rights remain prominent in both politics and culture. A few weeks ago, I discussed the appropriateness of supporting political positions as a company in “You Can’t Boycott the Gay Away” and it seems that the reverse applies as well; you can’t support a company to make the gay go away. Chick-fil-a was already in the news a few years ago when it was revealed they give millions of dollars to anti gay companies like the Family Research Council. But this year, their president, Dan Cathy, brought the company into the spotlight again when he stated that his company was founded on “Biblical principles” and supported the “traditional family”. This brought a great deal of hostility towards and protests across the country at Chick-fil-A, ranging from mayors saying they won’t allow new CFA restaurants in their cities to people planning gay kiss-ins at the establishments. But Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate in the 2008 race, supported a counter protest in the form of a “buycott” where people would eat at CFA to support their opposition to gay marriage. This doesn’t really seem to have worked, since the company is losing popularity overall in their brand recognition in the last month or so. And even if CFA manages to keep its profits at an even keel, I imagine they will lose a great deal of patrons and likely close a few locations where profits aren’t maintained, keeping their main locations in places where it maintains popularity with a conservative demographic, such as where it started in the Southeast. But is it really appropriate to always protest or boycott a group merely because they don’t agree with your politics? Can you distinguish between the policies a company supports and the product they sell you or are they too overlapped when it comes to where the money used to pay for it goes to? And should corporations really be involved in politics or should they focus on making profit in their ventures?

First off, this shouldn’t be argued to be about first amendment rights. Like the Oreo thing, it is within a company’s rights to say they support a certain political position. The limits of the first amendment are primarily to hate speech, which hasn’t been uttered as far as I’m aware by Dan Cathy. Even his ridiculous claim that we’re “inviting God’s judgment” by trying to achieve marriage equality is not illegal, since it’s a claim that has no real basis in fact like Westboro Baptist Church’s similar warnings. Terrible things happen to America as much as they happen to other nations, so God’s judgment is all over the place by that sketchy logic. CFA has every right to take a stand on this issue, but at the same time, there is such a thing as too much involvement. Companies can become too invested and literally start to campaign through their funds by donating to political organizations. This fundamentally undermines the initial purpose of a democratic government. When companies get involved, they take away the real value of the individual votes, because they’re campaigning with much more money behind them and it’s voluntary for different reasons. Asking for funds is one thing common in election season, but restaurants or the like get consistent cash flow, which makes their situation more ideal to take advantage of the lack of limits in other political contexts.  The Supreme court has made it law, from what I understand, that corporations cannot donate more than a certain amount to presidential or other such candidate based campaigns, but say nothing concerning such things as legislation in general. The Family Research Council, one of CFA’s recipients of funds, was against Congress condemning a bill in Uganda that would have made it legal to kill homosexuals, though they tried to divert the blame from them directly by saying they were trying to avoid “normalization of homosexuality across the world”. That same organization has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These facts alone should be enough to make you think about calling CFA out on that blemish of their otherwise spotless record. What is ultimately at stake here is not whether CFA is going to go out of business, since a free market of both business and ideas necessitates that we have both crappy or subpar food and beliefs. If someone thinks that gays shouldn’t get the same rights as straight people, that’s their prerogative. But when you start trying to legislate those beliefs in reality, that’s where you stop being free under the constitution to do so. The same applies to companies. The goal should not be to protest, boycott or support CFA because of their political stance on gay marriage, but petition them to stop funding hate groups and stay out of politics as much as possible, if not entirely.

Chick-fil-A has stated that they intend to leave the policies of same sex marriage to the government and political arena. If this is the case, then I hope that they also cease their funding to people who are involved in politics. The National Organization for Marriage advocated a boycott of General Mills and Starbucks; plus I believe Million Moms suggested the same for Oreo. The vast majority of companies either 1) aren’t involved or 2) try to do it covertly, as CFA seems to have done in the past and may continue to in the future. Any company should maintain neutrality in this issue, especially when it comes to funding. They can take a position in the nominal sense, but to actively try to advance it through their profits is potentially unconstitutional, if not just insensible. Why waste funds trying to do what the people should be allowed to do without interference from entities that are not individual persons? It’s one thing for explicitly political groups to get donations from individual citizens, but private companies should concentrate on maximizing profit and marketing the items or services in question they provide. It’s just practical common sense.

To separate politics and product completely in terms of being a consumer misses the point, but as a producer, it is essential to doing good and efficient business. Policies and legislation are unnecessary to selling chicken sandwiches, or any other product, food related or otherwise. Just market the items through various media and progress from there. So this is a double edged conclusion. On the one hand, a consumer shouldn’t try to separate product and politics, since they can be interrelated. CFA can be argued to sponsor discrimination, so you shouldn’t go there. But you also should be able to separate the company’s employees from the policies their higher ups, like Dan Cathy support. They may not support that, but they still work there regardless. And for producers, the goal of entrepreneurial enterprises and franchises is to make money, not to use that money for purposes other than making money. Charitable organizations may be an exception, but to advance a partisan agenda is not what you should do with the money you get from people of all political persuasions. Keep your money either to charity or consumer interests and I think everything would become a little better in terms of political campaigns and their natural flow. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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