The Kama Sutra of Corporate Smarm

Move On! Before Howard Schultz’s “Come Together” stunt, I’m reminded, there was CNBC’s “Rise Above” stunt, also apparently an attempt to push for some sort of fiscal cliff Grand Bargain. And CNBC’s sister network, MSNBC, has its own “Lean Forward” slogan, of course. Can you Rise Above and Lean Forward and Come Together at the same time? I’ll look it up in the kama sutra of corporate smarm–but I think it’s probably impossible, ideologically if not anatomically, because “Lean Forward” means “no” on some fiscal cliff comings-together (like Simpson-Bowles).’ Maybe if you Lead from Behind (as Katie Scarlet suggested). …

Many commentators are upset that huge money-making companies now seem to be publicly rooting for particular policy positions. I say get used to it. The combination of a) web-driven polarization, in which partisanship = profits, a la MSNBC and HuffPo, and b) Citizens United, after which corporations can’t claim they’re unable to take sides, is operating to obliterate what Marxists would call the alienated bourgeois division between working and politicking. It’s all praxis now, comrades! Admittedly, it’s only the blandest, most inoffensive Neutral Story Line type praxis at the moment–let’s all “come together” (and coincidentally protect our business’ interest) without losing too many customers. But if corporations get away with that, who knows what’s next–maybe they’ll be writing “path to citizenship” on your Starbucks cups in a few months.

In any case, Jonathan Chait seems fusty when he complains that companies root for a budget deal but not for stimulus. That’s what they want, just as The NewNew Republic wants something else (and Kaplan, Inc. The Washington Post wants something else). It’a free country. In the future, every corporation will be a small magazine of opinion for 15 minutes. If you don’t like them … don’t like them.

I do think there’s a problem of employee notice and consent. If you go to work for HuffPo, you know you are not joining a Tea Party organization. Maybe if you go to work for CNBC you know you’re joining a bunch of smug trader types. But if you go to work for Starbucks do you know you’re going to be working for a tax-hiking, entitlement-shaving budget deal, or whatever Howard Schultz cares about on any particular day? I guess you do now!

One possibility, of course, is that the old concept of alienation will reassert itself with a vengeance: not only will you be working at a crappy barista job but you’l be working at a crappy barista job while being ordered to promote political views you may vehemently disagree with in your private, off-work hours. The other possibility–admittedly more likely under late-90s conditions of full employment–is that people will learn to choose employers who fit their politics. The Big Sort will expand from the housing market (liberals move to Oregon, conservatives to Texas) to the employment market (liberals work for Starbucks and Tesla, conservatives for Chick-Fil-A and Ford).

As a semi-lapsed Marxist, I like the second prospect better.