|BIG BUSINESS FEELS THE HEAT OF
|In the February 1995 issue of
Fortune Magazine, the cover article "Today's GOP: The Party is over for Big
Business" includes the subtitle: "In a political arena now dominated
by small business populists, anti-government conservatives, and the religious
right, corporate America's the odd man out—mistrusted, resented,
impotent." The article presents the story as a fight for the soul of the
Republican party, but the implication is much bigger: do the November elections
and the Gingrich-led landslide mark the first real chance for the
"religious right" to be successful in forcing big business to take a
principled stand on major social and political issues of modern life, including
the issue of abortion.
The New Face of the GOP
Dick Cheney, according to the article, was the political heir of the Big Business power group within the Republican party. And his decision not to run for the presidency in 1996 seals the fate of Big Business in its forced wedding to the populist right more characteristically headed by Newt Gingrich.
The Fortune article thus claims that if the Republican National Committee published a tabloid newspaper the cover article would be: "GOP TO BIG BUSINESS: DROP DEAD." Even, taking into account the fact that the magazine, as a vice-admiral ship of the Time Warner fleet with its Volvo-liberal view of reality, is not precisely talking from the holy of holies of neither Big Business nor the GOP, the proposition that the deadly neutral stance of corporate America on social issues can be shaken is worth examining.
Richard Rahn, former chief economist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that : "a lot of the newer Republicans in Congress simply don't like big business." Republican party chairman indeed officially stated; "ours is the party of small business, not big business; of Main Street, not Wall Street."
The new GOP, according to the article, draws its strength by the religious conservatives and by conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association. The common ideological ground for these two subgroups is an intense dislike for big government, enough for the writer to begin regretting the Nixon- and Ford-era Republicans. As a proof of this assertion, many new elected Republicans are reported to be small business owners and 44 of them owe their elections to the Christian conservative movement. 60 of them take a strong pro-life position on abortion, in particular.
"Most of the current GOP partisans don't actively hate, much less fear, big business. They just feel contempt for it."
Big business is accused to have been too eager to cut self-serving deals with the past Democratic leadership. Dick Armey, the majority whip from Texas, with both cow-boy boots and a Ph.D. in economics, calls them "prags". The auto makers agree with elements of Clinton health plans to be financed by corporations. The US Chamber of Commerce did not fight the 1993 tax increase.
Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, considers that "there's a real cultural disconnect between the Fortune 500 and social conservatives." The split is not yet too important as the Contract With America covers issues which do not pit the two sides one against the other, as it proposes instead to build up the economic power of the country. But the social issues will come up soon later and corporate America will have to face a GOP leadership and its dealing with what Pat Buchanan calls "the culture war." The article recognizes that "religious conservatives" find that big business has either been absent from its battle station or ... on the wrong side of the issue.
The study by the Capital Research Center that finds that big business gives about $3.42 for leftist organizations (including Planned Parenthood) for each $1 it gives to non-profits on the right, is given as proof of the left- leaning bias of Fortune 500 donations.
The second area of contention is the activities of personnel departments of large corporations and specifically the habits of such departments in some companies to give benefits to same-sex partners and other "multi-cultural" agenda fostered by these departments through "diversity awareness programs."
Gary Bauer, very interestingly, states that he believes that he has much more in common with Fortune 500 CEO's in terms of economic beliefs that the CEO's have with, say, the president of NOW. But the CEO's would think, according to Bauer that he, Bauer, is a much more controversial. Concludes firmly Bauer: "Business is just going to have to learn who its natural allies are in this long battle we are engaged in."
While 2/3 of corporate America money went to Democrats before the November election, especially to powerful Committee's chairmen, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, an association of small businesses, gave mostly to pro-business candidates. It is no surprise that Gingrich and Armey considers the latter group, the business group they turn to fist.
Another fighter in this battle is Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition, with its 1.8 million members and $20 million a year budget. This organization has been quite effective by distributing 60 million voter guides through 65,000 churches. No corporation has the political clout of the Christian coalition, not even General Motors.
What Corporate America Stands For
A poll was conducted by Fortune on what CEOs think. Well, first they are very interested in economic issues: 98% said Congress should make cutting federal spending a priority; 82% believe in the immediate necessity in reducing government regulations. But if 41% of CEOs described religion as very important and 48% described it as "somewhat important", only 4% were interested in passing a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary school prayers.
Their reflections on the "social issues" were similar. Corporate America wants to avoid these social issues. They see them as divisive and as tearing the party and the country apart.
22% of these CEOs are concerned by the rising of the religious right. 59% of CEOs in the survey were adamantly pro-abortion. "A woman should be able to have an abortion if she wants one, no matter the reason."
Dick Cheney looked like "a reasonable Republican" even if most CEOs did know his positions on many issues they liked the image. Their second choice Colin Powell pretty much for the same reason. Newt Gingrich got about 3% of the CEO's votes. What they would like is a fiscal conservative with Perot-like social issues supporters.
Fortune 500's and the Culture War.
"We don't want to be drawn into political advocacy wittingly or unwittingly" said Hal Burlingame AT&T's Vice President for Human resources. To him and his friends, the Fortune Magazine article says: "hey guys, get helmets."
"Business is not going to be able to stay neutral in this fight, any more than someone could in 1773 as the American Revolution began to build." says Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council.
100 US corporations have taken the position that they are not influenced by "sexual orientation". In other words they have swallowed the gay agenda hook, line and sinker. They include Apple Computer, Genentech, Levi Strauss, Microsoft and Time Warner (parent of Fortune magazine). Elizabeth Birch, formerly with Apple Computer, and now head of the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign Fund, is really proud of it: "are you going to listen to the heart of corporate America or heed a loud, little pit bull known as the extreme right?."
To which a lieutenant of Gary Bauer says: "It's roll back time. No one should be forced to employ people whose lifestyle and values they deem repulsive, unhealthy and immoral."
Previous skirmishes in the culture war include AT&T flop at a "graceful exit of the abortion debate" when it announced that it would not fund Planned Parenthood and was slammed by Wattleton for "corporate cowardice." Also the Bank of America opposition to the straight policy of the Boy Scouts of America and Apple Computer success in getting a tax break from a Texas county to set up facilities there.
But the Fortune writer expects these to be mild in comparison to what is coming up. Tom Wolfe, the writer, is clear that the new trends in the country are really: "it's the culture, stupid".
Peggy Noonan and Michael Novak are reported to agree that corporations will have to be much more careful how they are funding the sides of the culture war.
A majority of Americans do not want too many abortions but want to make abortions available. They are against homosexual marriages but against discriminations against homosexual in the workplace. These give indications to the Fortune Magazine writers that corporate American could navigate between the Carybdis and Scilla of these issues. Home Depot management was asked by the Georgia's Cobb County to pass a resolution condemning "gay lifestyles". Bernie Marcus, the chairman refused and said that it was a stupid idea. "We didn't and don't have a formal policy on sexual orientation or extending benefits. But this company makes it very clear that whether someone is gay or not really doesn't matter to us."
The same chairman added "corporations simply have to have a backbone about certain things."
The Realities of Things to Come.
The Religious right does not control the GOP yet. However, religious conservatives are the most powerful force within the GOP. Irving Kristol predicted that religious conservatives "are going to be the very core of an emerging American conservatism".
Some corporate partisans may be tempted to believe that since religious conservatives are not hostile to business they should not worry about them. The article states that this is not so. The new GOP is more interested in passing some tax break for large families than tax breaks for corporations. The NFIB also "We don't like the idea of industrial policy and don't believe large companies should be looking to the government to let them export."
Many executives have distorted views on the religious right. They tend to view them according to a past characterizations by the Washington Post "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." They, in fact, are not very far from the national norm for income and education.
Business lobbyists should build bridges to the religious right recommends the Fortune magazine. They have many issues in common and should build coalitions. Also there is a tendency for the religious right to concentrate more on economic issues for the purpose of giving a financial break to the family.
But that should not mean that a bitter fight can be avoided. It will most predictably take place during the 1996 elections and would include school prayer, federal funding of abortion and possibly an anti-GATT agenda. What the article did not say.
The article seems to imply that the pro-choice and anti-social issues of Fortune 500 CEOs is normal and that they should stand for them.
Well, for a first argument, if the national average is giving more clout to the religious right in politics, there is no reason why the same trend is not going to also work in corporate annual meetings. Top managers are going to represent increasingly the views of their constituencies. Directors who are against the values of the electorates will not be re-elected that easily. Managers who are perceived as totally on the wrong side of the culture war will have an uphill battle to claim that they recognize the national mood and how to provide products and services to that constituency. What the Fortune article is particular guilty of is to have couched the whole matter almost entirely in political terms. For example the alliance between Big Business and the "political right" should be in the dealing of political lobbying in Washington over issues both sides can agree on such as limiting the size of the federal government or federal taxes, or federal deficit...
Fortune magazine seems to avoid completely the issue that the fight will be conducted in the backyard of the corporations: involving their advertising and market shares.
For the same reason that the TV viewing public is insisting more and more on programs and stations which provide more perfectly to their tastes and thereby watch cable TV and special programming and thus shunning the fare of the network, the shopping public will go with smaller corporations who promote a cultural agenda which is more attuned to their taste rather than the products of the Fortune 100's. This trend has been known for quite a while and has been given, by Faith Popcorn, the name of "cocooning".
Like the networks, large corporations have to realize that they can no longer be all things to all people. On the issue of abortion, they have to realize that they cannot remain neutral. The whole article of Fortune implies a certain lofty wisdom in remaining away from the abortion debate. Pro-lifers do not see any wisdom in that, as many people would not think it wise to be uncommitted on the issue of the holocaust. There will be pro-abortion companies and pro-life companies in the near future. And all that consider themselves as "neutral", as they have been siding with the prevalent culture (such as their cozying up with the entertainment industry through advertising on TV) can be safely considered pro-abortion by default.
Large companies will have to lose some of their market, willy-nilly. And conglomerates cannot be formed with divisions which are pro-life and divisions which are pro-abortion. From the pro-life stand point any conglomerate with a pro-abortion division is to be considered pro-abortion.
The second major issue that the Fortune article ignores is that corporation have really no basic ideology on these matters. They are against the "religious right" by default. They have simply adopted the ideology of the big boys. Now that the big boys are the religious right, they stand to be educated by this newer group.
In particular Fortune 500 CEOs have to learn that there is an economic argument against abortion (the aging of the population and the social security issue are all part of the abortion picture), there is a marketing argument against abortion (you don't let your market be hacked, poisoned and crushed away if you want to survive). But—even less recognized and much more important—there is management argument against abortion, as well as homosexuality.
Management considers assumptions about human being and is therefore the closest to a modern-day metaphysics. A management theorist even proudly stated that he believes his profession has replaced the priests who gave moral advice to the rulers. Management experts think of themselves as people who are responsible for holding the hands of top management who have serious moral problems with important decisions and help them through their decision-making process.
The Holy Father John Paul II said that what in the end brought the ruin of Communism was that it was based on a radically flawed anthropology, understanding of the nature of man. Fortune 500 companies have to decide whether they want to stick with the anthropology promoted by the social scientists who find their discipline a credible and powerful stronghold to attack religious values, or they will want to listen to those who are happy to see an harmonious development between the sciences of management and the notion that God is the Creator and is immanent in creation.
And that leads us to the last grave error of that article: the almost complete neglect of the orthodox Catholic influence in these matters. This influence will certainly assert itself when it will be recognized that the teachings of the Catholic Church provide the most recognizable and coherent body of principles which Big Business will be able to find when they will discover that their ideology on social matters seem to change and resemble more closely the ideology of the new winners of the GOP party.
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