Opinion: The business of business is still business

The NRA-Delta-Casey Cagle flap this week has been a congress of the tin-eared and ham-handed.

Accounting only for the local participants, you had Delta moving — amid political duress, and under the guise of seeking political “neutrality” — to remove a single, political group out of a discount program that is otherwise apolitical. So, the company was moving away from, not toward, neutrality. Then you had Lt. Gov. Cagle, currently running to drop the “Lt.” from his title, tweeting his intent “to kill any tax legislation” that would benefit Delta. Namely, an income-tax cut that had been on a glide path toward passage — but which included the elimination of the sales tax on jet fuel for commercial airlines.

The company goofed. The politician miscalculated. And our liberal friends desperately needed someone to pass the smelling salts.

So offended were their delicate sensibilities about a politician’s strong-arming a business. So shocked were they at the prospect of government punishing a company for its political speech.

And so blank, apparently, were their memories.

Let’s not even bother today with all the ways Democrats try to limit the way companies can go about their actual business. It is not a stretch to say the left invented the practice of punishing private businesses for their political speech. (Heck, they don’t even believe corporations have the right to political speech, if it comes in the form of campaign contributions or, in some eyes, lobbying.) We need not reach too far into the past to see what I mean.

There was the Chicago alderman in 2015 who, with the support of a fellow Democrat, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for almost two months blocked approval of Chick-fil-A’s plan to build a restaurant in his district. Why? Because the company’s president, Dan Cathy, had said he believed in “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Also that year, Democratic state attorneys general finally found a way to punish ExxonMobil for its public pushback on the “consensus” about climate change and what should be done to energy companies in light of it. Starting with New York’s Eric Schneiderman, the top lawyers in several blue states settled on the dubious theory that Exxon was misleading its investors. The cases are still under way.

Back in 2009, President Barack Obama in a radio address threatened to take away health insurers’ antitrust exemption because they were running ads opposing his proposed health-care overhaul. He accused them of lying about the law, which apparently was only allowed if you said something like, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

To be clear, all of these coercive actions and threats by government — what the Democrats did elsewhere, and what Cagle and other Republicans threatened to do here — were wrong. Republicans get no quarter just because Democrats are also guilty.

If anything, Republicans bear more of a responsibility not to engage in these tactics because they are philosophically inclined against politicizing business. Their mantra is supposed to be Milton Friedman’s: The business of business is business. Actually, that should be everyone’s mantra.

But genuine disgust at how Cagle and his allies reacted to Delta’s maneuver ought to cover a lot more instances of the behavior that some suddenly realize is beyond the pale.

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