To boycott or not to boycott, that is the question

Should supporters of Georgia’s election law boycott the boycotters?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether Georgia conservatives should engage in reciprocal boycotts against Major League Baseball and companies like Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola after the All-Star game was moved out of Atlanta and corporate CEOs spoke out against the new Georgia election law. Personally, I opposed the original MLB boycott as well being against the conservative responses.

There are several reasons why I’m opposed to both the boycott and the counter-boycott. For starters, even though I oppose leftist attempts to use “cancel culture” to silence their opponents (in those instances when the cancellation attempts are real and not imaginary), I also oppose right-wing attempts to cancel the left. In many cases, what we see are overblown responses to mico-aggressions against things conservatives like rather than legitimate examples of cancel culture. In other words, a lot of the time, the right is attempting to impose its own cancel culture on the left.

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A second reason is that boycotts rarely work. There are a plethora of examples of boycotts called by both sides, but how many have actually resulted in a victory for the aggrieved party? Not many.

For every successful boycott, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of failures. What usually happens is that the boycott fizzles after a few weeks or months and things go back to normal. The Southern Baptist Convention officially boycotted Disney for eight years but there is little indication that the move actually hurt Disney. When conservatives boycotted Nike in 2018 to protest the company’s decision to hire Colin Kaepernick, the company actually became even more profitable. In the case of the NFL boycott, tv ratings are down, but team revenues are up.

I would say that the worst possible outcome of a boycott is that the targeted company does better under the boycott than it did before. Not only has the boycott failed in that case, but the boycotters have undermined their own credibility as a political force.

The lesson here should be that, before calling a boycott, political leaders should make sure that there is adequate support to make good on the threat. Are people in general, not just the partisan base or one small segment of society, angry enough to give up dealing with the target of the boycott? Will people follow through or will they cheat? Is there a clearly defined and achievable goal?

That brings us to the possible boycotts against MLB, Delta, Coke, and others. First, I have looked for polling to determine how Georgians feel about the new law and have not found any (or national polling on the question for that matter), but I don’t think that the law is as popular as many Republicans believe it to be. Social media tends to be an echo chamber where our opinions are reinforced because most of our acquaintances share the same opinion.

I also don’t think that the CEOs of companies like Delta are really woke leftists. James Quincey, the CEO of Coca-Cola, is British and not typically involved in American politics while Ed Bastion, the CEO of Delta, contributes to both Republicans and Democrats. Neither Bastion nor Quincey seems to have taken a position on the 2020 elections and Bastion pointedly refused to comment on Donald Trump last June.

So, why would two relatively apolitical CEOs speak out against the Georgia law? Maybe - and hear me out here - maybe it’s because they think it’s a bad law and unpopular with the majority of their customers.

Quincey told CNBC that he thought the law was “wrong” and that Coke had always opposed the law, privately working with legislators and even pausing political donations to the bill’s sponsors before the law passed.

“Now that it’s passed, we’re coming out more publicly,” Quincey said.

For his part, Bastion penned a memo to Delta employees that also revealed that the company had also worked with “elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill” and “had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.” Nevertheless, Bastion says that SB 202 “could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote.”

He’s not wrong.

As I explained last month, the bill contains some good measures but also unquestionably restricts voting rights. The bill contains several provisions that make it harder to vote, even it only marginally so.

But that does not make the bill a Jim Crow law. People who believe that SB 202 is a Jim Crow law don’t understand Jim Crow, the Georgia law, or both. Whether the law constitutes voter suppression is more a matter of opinion since there is no legal definition of the term.

Some restrictions are good and some are bad. Some are illegal. Not all restrictions on voting are suppression, but voting restrictions do limit voting rights by definition.

In the case of SB 202, the law was unquestionably a response to the 2020 elections and the Republican perception that absentee ballots and voter fraud cost Donald Trump the election. Important provisions also target Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who not only resisted President Trump’s overtures to “find” enough votes to change the outcome of the election, but who made the recording of Trump’s potentially illegal requests public. There is little doubt that if Trump had won the election, the Georgia General Assembly would never have passed the law.

In other words, Georgia Republicans passed a law that pandered to their base and was obviously going to be unpopular with most voters, bringing the whole situation on themselves. The fact that some of the worst aspects of the bill, such as the attempt to end no-excuse absentee voting and limit Sunday voting, were not in the final bill doesn’t mean that the rest of the bill was not an attempt to ensure future Republican victories.

In fact, what amounted to a half-hearted attempt to please Trump supporters by restricting voting rights and reining in the Secretary of State may end up blowing up in Republican faces because it does not do enough to suppress Democrats. In the end, the law became the worst of both worlds for Republicans as Democrats, minorities, and even moderates were angered by the law while but retained access to the polls.

We may very well see increased Democratic turnout in 2022 as the law motivates opponents of the law to elect politicians who will repeal it. You may scoff at this possibility, but only a few months ago many ridiculed the notion that Democrats could win the presidential and senatorial elections in Georgia.

What the situation boils down to is a double standard. Republicans had no problem with companies openly criticizing Barack Obama’s policies but now don’t like it when their own unpopular law is under scrutiny. As we learned from Citizens United, Americans don’t give up their free speech rights when they form corporations. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t face consequences for the words, but it does mean that we shouldn’t shout each other down. Coke and Delta are Georgia companies and have a right to voice their opinions.

Finally, I oppose boycotts in general because I don’t want to see an increase in the Balkanization of American life. It would be exhausting to have to keep track of which companies I’m supposed to be angry at this week. I think it’s much better for America in general if we just choose which company to do business with on the basis on which one better suits our needs and lifestyle.

If that means you want to patronize an unabashedly right-wing company like My Pillow or avoid companies that you think are “woke” then you do you. But you shouldn’t have any illusions that you are part of a majority in your boycott or that your shopping decisions are going to change anything.

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