The change may be politically expedient, but will come at a high cost. Conservatives once understood that free markets are an engine that produces widespread wealth – and that government interference is all too often a key to the job. Picking winners and losers, and otherwise substituting the preferences of legislators and bureaucrats for the logic of supply and demand, disrupts the economy’s ability to meet people’s material needs. If Republicans continue down this path, the result will be fewer jobs, higher prices, less consumer choice and a hindrance to the unforeseen innovations that make our lives better and better.
But conservatives focus on more than markets; perhaps they turn against the rule of law itself. The First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting people’s ability to speak, publish, broadcast and solicit grievances precisely because the American founders saw criticizing one’s rulers as a God-given right. Drawing attention to mistakes and advocating a better way forward are some of the key mechanisms by which ‘we the people’ hold our government to account. Using state power to punish someone for unfavorable political expressions is a gross violation of that ideal.
The US economy is rife with favoritism, such as subsidies or regulatory exemptions, that give some companies benefits that aren’t available to everyone. This again makes a mockery of free markets and the rule of law, with wealth being transferred from taxpayers and consumers to politically connected elites. But while ending favoritism is a worthy goal, selectively revoking privileges from companies that fall out of favor with the party in power is not good governance reform.
You might question the retaliatory nature of the Republican business speech reversal, but because of their inability to stop standing in front of cameras and speak the silent part out loud. At the time of signing the bill that repeals Disney’s Special District and several others, Mr. DeSantis said this: “You are a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you are going to pool your economic power to attack the parents of my state. That we see it as a provocation and we are going to rebel against it.”
But if government power can be used for brutal attacks on American companies and nonprofits, then what? can not what is it used for? If it is legitimate for politicians to retaliate against groups for political expression, is it also legitimate to retaliate against individuals? (As Senator Mitt Romney once said, “Corporations are people, my friend.”) And if even the right to speak out is not held sacred, what chance do people have of resisting an authoritarian turn?
Confronting these questions, conservatives once favored free markets and limited government as essential bulwarks against tyranny. Rejecting those obligations is no small concession to changing times, but a vile desecration, for cheap political gain, of everything they have long claimed to believe.
For decades, the “fusionist” philosophy of governance — which, by bringing together the values of individual liberty and traditional morality, instructs the government to protect liberty so that the people are free to pursue a virtuous life — has bound conservatives together. and the Republican Party a coherent animating force. That philosophy would reject the idea that political officials should have discretion over the positions that companies are allowed to take or the views that people are allowed to express.