Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s announcement last week that the company would stop selling most guns and ammunition is drawing praise across the liberal political spectrum and especially in the liberal press. Walmart, although long a villain of leftist activists and the press, is suddenly a corporate darling.
For conservatives, it is worth noting just how this happened. This past Saturday, on CNN’s “Smerconish,” CNBC talking head Andrew Ross Sorkin and host Michael Smerconish praised McMillon for using his corporate voice to push a social agenda. The tenor of the segment was that private businesses are filling the void left by the government’s inaction on America’s “gun epidemic.” As Sorkin put it, companies “are stepping into the breach” in lieu of government action.
Walmart’s announcement was no accident, and Sorkin had a big role in it. For years, Sorkin has been a vocal advocate of corporate action to curtail the Second Amendment. After the horrific shooting at an El Paso Walmart, Sorkin penned an open letter to McMillon in The New York Times, noting that “[w]hat happened over the weekend was not your fault — but it is your moral responsibility to see that it stops.”
He went on to suggest that Walmart use its massive economic influence to pressure other companies to get on board with his anti-gun crusade. He even made specific suggestions, such as compelling Apple’s Tim Cook to ban customers from using Apple Pay to purchase guns.
Sorkin suggested that throughout Walmart’s entire supply chain and its business relationships, the company could do much to curtail the Second Amendment. From manufacturing to banking and credit card processing, Sorkin hopes many more companies feel pressure to squeeze guns out of our economy.
The Left Changes Culture Without Changing the Law
Sorkin and other far-left activists use corporate pressure to achieve change because they understand one concept very well: You don’t need to change a law to change the culture. If gun manufacturers are frozen out of the marketplace through corporate action, the left will have achieved its political goals without the use of politics.
This is why conservatives must start to engage with corporate leaders in the same manner liberals do. And it’s urgent we do this now because liberal interest groups are rapidly changing — and even redefining — corporate culture.
In August, the Business Roundtable, an association of the nation’s leading CEOs, made a sweeping change to its mission. Its goal is no longer shareholder primacy; rather, it now considers all “stakeholders” equal.
In response, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board astutely noted that today’s CEOs are much more like politicians than they are business leaders. It warned that “[a]n ill-defined stakeholder model can quickly become a license for CEOs to waste capital on projects that might make them local or political heroes but ill-serve those same stakeholders if the business falters.”
In the short term, however, today’s “stakeholders” are far-left advocates that demand companies step “into the breach” on all sorts of issues to advance social justice causes. And they are achieving major successes on an almost daily basis. From pushing an anti-life agenda as demanded by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, to defunding pro-business associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council as requested by the activist As You Sow network, to censoring speech based on fake “hate” as pushed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the left is often the tail that wags the dog of corporate action.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that the left has long derided corporate speech.
The Left Hates Corporate Speech— Until It Helps Them
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which affirmed that corporations have the right to free speech, progressives were apoplectic. After the decision, President Barack Obama used the State of the Union address to denounce the court and demand Congress overturn the decision. Then The New York Timeseditorial board called the ruling “disastrous,” “radical,” “shameless,” “deeply wrong,” “wrongheaded,” “nonsensical,” “wrong on the law,” and “dangerous.”
My, how times have changed. Now the Times is over the moon about corporate speech — because now it amplifies the worldview of those who live in ivory towers and walk the halls of the Times’ Manhattan offices.
The shoe won’t always be on the same foot, however. If conservatives meaningfully engage with companies as the left does, CEOs may decide it’s not worth engaging in the culture wars. They may even find that long-term goals of freedom and prosperity are better for actual shareholders than pandering to progressive stakeholders.
If businesses do change course and start praising the conservative ideals of limited government and economic prosperity, don’t expect Smerconish or Sorkin to applaud them for “stepping into the breach.” Instead, expect to hear once again about the evils of Citizens United.