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Sally Kohn Doesn’t Understand Civil Society



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Showcasing once again her prodigious talent for steadfastly missing the point, Sally Kohn weighs in on the Chipotle affair:

It’s getting clearer and clearer lately that conservatives actually hate capitalism.  Sure, sure, conservatives seem all in favor of completely unfettered free markets—until private businesses decide to do things they don’t like.  

Private companies want to pay their workers pennies an hour?  More power to ’em.  In fact, Republican Rep. Joe Barton would unshackle corporations altogether and repeal the minimum wage, which he believes has “outlived its usefulness.” But when privately owned television networks make the business decision to suspend stars and cancel shows due to racist or homophobic remarks? Conservatives are outraged

And now conservatives are up in arms that the restaurant chain Chipotle has asked that customers not bring weapons into their stores, following an incident in members of the gun-rights organization Open Carry Texas brought assault-style rifles into a Chipotle in Dallas.  The activist group insisted they weren’t demonstrating, but simply wielding their weapons during a meal following an event.  Nonetheless, Chipotle issued a statement asking patrons who aren’t law enforcement officers to leave their heat at home.  “The display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers.”  Conservatives are outraged!

As per usual, Kohn is struggling to grasp some important constitutional and philosophical concepts. Last year, she inexplicably suggested that Hobby Lobby’s unwillingness to provide contraception to its employees was a violation of the First Amendment. Now she’s failing to distinguish between the public and private sectors. 

I’ll try to help. Conservatives argue in favor of the free market not because they like everything that it does, and not because they admire or agree with everybody who participates in it, but because they don’t want the government coercing behavior. But the free market is a system, not an outcome. And, as this post shows, this does not mean that players within the market are beyond criticism. Indeed, one’s support for a free market no more implies that one has to like all of its consequences than one’s support for a free press implies that one has to praise every newspaper or novel that escapes the censor’s ink. Would we say, “right-wingers are always going on about freedom of speech, but then Michael Moore makes Bowling for Columbine and conservatives are outraged!” Of course not.

Ultimately, Kohn’s comparison of the conservative position on the minimum wage and the conservative position on the cancelation of television shows tells us something extremely important: She doesn’t really understand the difference between the state and civil society. Kohn writes:

Private companies want to pay their workers pennies an hour?  More power to ’em.  In fact, Republican Rep. Joe Barton would unshackle corporations altogether and repeal the minimum wage, which he believes has “outlived its usefulness.” But when privately owned television networks make the business decision to suspend stars and cancel shows due to racist or homophobic remarks? Conservatives are outraged

Oh dear. The juxtaposition of these two things would only make sense if conservatives wished the government to step in in the latter case but not in the former. But they don’t. In fact, in both cases, conservatives want the government to stay the hell away. I have been bitingly critical of Mozilla’s pressuring Brendan Eich to step down; of A&E’s short-lived decision to suspend Phil Robertson; and of the culture pressures that pushed HGTV to cancel the Benham Brothers’ show. In each instance, however, I have made it crystal clear that there is no law that has been broken – and that there should be no such law. These were cultural and private criticisms; free actors telling other free actors that they respect their rights but they think that they got it wrong. I understand that progressives find this difficult to grasp, but I’m afraid that it is wholly possible to a) believe that the state has no role setting a minimum wage, and b) believe that a particular company is paying its employees too little, too much, or just the right amount. Likewise it is possible to believe a) that the state has no role to play in determining who should and should not be fired from a company, and b) that people are sometimes fired for terrible and reprehensible reasons. Sorry, Sally. There’s nothing inconsistent here.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, this really isn’t that difficult:

I want television to be run by private companies that are responsive to public opinion. But does this mean I have to like that public opinion? Hardly. If it did, I’d never be able to criticize Real Housewives of New Jersey or Honey Boo Boo or MSNBC, nor the forces that make them possible. If it did, any suggestion that not all programming is smart and thoughtful would have to be subordinated to the witless chant, “but the company is just responding to its audience.” And, if it did, I would be required to be fine with the public’s apparently being so intolerant of the private views of its entertainers that anyone who steps out of line must be quickly removed from their sight. 

Well, I’m not fine with that. I think it’s bloody.

And yet, somehow, I’ve managed to avoid calling for the feds to step in.

As for the thrust of Kohn’s piece: Why are some people on the Right outraged at Chipotle? Well, the answer to this really matters. Are they outraged because they think that restaurant chains should be forced to allow guns into their stores or are they outraged because they dislike Chipotle’s decision? Kohn’s very next line gives us our answer:

Here’s National Review contributor Greg Pollowitz endorsing a boycott.

Yes, a “boycott.” In other words, a voluntary withdrawal of his business. Not a law. As Kohn notes, Pollowitz tweeted: ”If I lived in Dallas I’d boycott Chipotle and Taco Bell.” He did not tweet: “If I lived in Dallas I’d lobby the government to force Chipotle and Taco Bell to comply with my wishes.”

Kohn finishes with some welcome truth. “I’m so confused I’m feeling dizzy. I need a burrito,” she explains. A quick lesson in civics, too, perhaps.



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