Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sunday Reading

Slapping DeSantis Silly — Charles P. Pierce.

It used to be easier to mock the Republicans for their unyielding loyalty to their corporate masters. It was a straight line from the executive suite to the executive branch. It was the basis for Lewis Powell’s famous memo that suggested in 1971 using the party’s big-money connections to create what we now know as the permanent wingnut-welfare apparatus, which is now in its sixth decade of producing young, ambitious conservatives for employment in Congress, in the administrative agencies, and in the federal courts. Operating under the premise that American corporations were beset by leftists, Powell wrote:

The painfully sad truth is that business, including the boards of directors’ and the top executives of corporations great and small and business organizations at all levels, often have responded — if at all — by appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem. There are, of course, many exceptions to this sweeping generalization. But the net effect of such response as has been made is scarcely visible. In all fairness, it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it.

The traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. They have performed these tasks very well indeed. But they have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics, and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.

Just being good citizens just wasn’t going to cut it with Lewis Powell anymore. Building libraries, and bankrolling Little Leagues, and creating jobs wasn’t enough anymore. Not for Lewis Powell. Not with William Kunstler and Ralph Nader on the prowl. Not with universities chock-full of history professors in Bakuninite drag. This memo was the financial bedrock on which the intellectual charlatanism of modern conservatism was able to build and thrive, and Powell ended up on the Supreme Court for his trouble, where he worked to further cement Republican Party, and the conservative movement that energized it, to the people paying the bills. Once on the Supreme Court, Powell gave the recipients of his memo a clear demonstration of what he was proposing.

In 1978, writing for the majority in First National Bank v. Bellotti, Powell cut the first few yards of the path through the country’s campaign-finance laws that led, eventually, to the regime of sanctified influence-peddling established by Citizens United v. FEC. In doing so, he helped supply the quo to the quid his memo had suggested. He wrote:

We thus find no support in the First or Fourteenth Amendment, or in the decisions of this Court, for the proposition that speech that otherwise would be within the protection of the First Amendment loses that protection simply because its source is a corporation that cannot prove, to the satisfaction of a court, a material effect on its business or property. The “materially affecting” requirement is not an identification of the boundaries of corporate speech etched by the Constitution itself. Rather, it amounts to an impermissible legislative prohibition of speech based on the identity of the interests that spokesmen may represent in public debate over controversial issues and a requirement that the speaker have a sufficiently great interest in the subject to justify communication.

Corporations are people, too, suckers.

So, down through the years, corporate America and the Republican danced a mutually beneficial slow dance that so successfully transformed American politics that elements of the Democratic Party got sufficiently jealous and tried to cut in, an era for which that party is still paying a price in division and debate.

Now, along comes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who, somewhere in his deeply deluded mind, fancies himself a president and, further, fancies that the way to do it is to make culture war on a giant, world-famous Florida corporation. And, on Wednesday of this past week, the corporation struck back hard. From The New York Times:

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call with analysts last week. On Thursday, Mr. Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on an office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando at a cost of roughly $1 billion. It would have brought more than 2,000 Disney jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The project, near Lake Nona Town Center, was supposed to cost $864 million, but recent price estimates have been closer to $1.3 billion. Disney had planned to relocate as many as 2,000 employees from Southern California, including most of a department known as Imagineering, which works with Disney’s movie studios to develop theme park attractions.

For the benefit of readers who may have forgotten, DeSantis is the governor of Florida. His primary — hell, his only — current political duty is to the citizens of that state. But his “feud” with Disney, in which he is clearly out-gunned, out-financed, and out-brained, betrays that obligation in the currying of favor in Iowa and New Hampshire. Lewis Powell would have slapped him silly.

The feud began quietly enough. DeSantis rammed through his now-infamous Don’t Say Gay bill and Disney employees, including some from management, expressed their disapproval. Whereupon DeSantis lost his mind. From The New York Times:

Disney World, the 25,000-acre complex near Orlando, has a special tax status that began in 1967 and lets the megaresort essentially function as its own county government. Although the theme park is sandwiched between two counties, it operates as a special zone — formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and now the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District…The Florida Legislature allowed Mr. DeSantis to take away Disney’s special status in 2022 until it realized that the abolishment of the district — set for June 1, 2023 — would require taxpayers in Orange and Osceola Counties to pick up the tab for Disney World services like fire protection, policing and road maintenance. The district also carried roughly $1 billion in bond debt. If the district had been abolished, that debt would have been transferred to the counties.

This was a preposterous fight for DeSantis to pick. It didn’t make him look like a moral crusader, or a brave populist standing up to corporate greed. It made him look like a half-bright dilettante being jerked around by some political sharpies, a not particularly useful tool. Disney pressed its advantage.

The company had also pushed through a development agreement that would limit the new board’s power, a little-noticed move that was only belatedly discovered by the governor’s appointees. At a public meeting held in early February, the previous, Disney-controlled board passed restrictive covenants and a development agreement that gave the company widespread control over future construction.

The agreement, effective in perpetuity, also prohibits the tax district from using Disney’s name, Mickey Mouse or other characters without the company’s approval. Disney can sue for damages for violations. The change drew widespread attention only in late March. “It completely circumvents the authority of the board to govern,” Brian Aungst Jr., a member of the new council, said on March 29 at the group’s second meeting. “We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it.”

Being outfoxed by a Mouse is no way to run for president, son.

The fact is that, without the active cooperation and support of the money power, Republican politics is as dead as Kelsey’s nuts. Its policy proposals are incredibly unpopular and even its control of the judiciary is contributing to that unpopularity. Which is why any public mopery about “conservative populism” is to be ignored, because anybody proposing it is as doomed as DeSantis is. The very success of modern conservatism mitigates against any genuine conservative move against the money power. It is quite literally fcking with its own heartbeat.

DeSantis will continue to beat his chest and yell about the rising tide of Wokeness. Disney will continue to be richer and more powerful than DeSantis ever will be. What gets applause in Waterloo and Ames causes destruction in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. And being governor of Florida requires that you fight against the presidential candidate that you see in the mirror every morning.

Doonesbury — In the eye of the beholder.