How the Democratic Party internalized libertarianism
The only surprising thing about the recent open letter signed by 170 CEOs denouncing attempts by legislators in Alabama, Georgia, and other states to restrict abortion is that it didn't include more names. Maybe they just ran out of space.
Every time something like this happens, the breathless tone of the reporting gives us the impression that we are supposed to be surprised, as if most of us went around imagining that the chief of executives of Yelp and Lyft were some kind of Rick Santorum clones. We saw the same thing happen with same-sex marriage in 2015, when AT&T, Uber, Mastercard, and Coca-Cola adopted iridescent parodies of their logos to celebrate the Obergefell decision. It would be more astonishing in 2019 if a single living prominent American with a net worth above one million dollars not named Philip Rivers were willing to argue that Obergefell should be reversed. I would not stake my own net worth, which is considerably less than one million dollars, on it.
No one should be surprised when businessmen talk about whether things are good for business. What is far more interesting is how frequently liberal politicians who only half a decade or so ago would have framed their arguments in explicitly moral terms — the rhetoric of rights and justice and human dignity — have resorted to the seemingly value-neutral language of economics in discussing abortion and other social issues.
In 2013, Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office released a report claiming that anti-gay discrimination cost that nebulous entity known as "the economy" billions of dollars. In 2016, when Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican state legislator who found himself at odds with the Republican National Congressional Committee over the question of recruiting gay candidates lost much of his support from the financial industry, his opponents released an ad calling him "bad for business and wrong for New Jersey." Democrats have used this phrase over and over again to describe Mike Pence and the infamous HB2 "bathroom bill" in North Carolina. In January 2017, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that he would veto a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in Virginia. "I can't sit back and have that sitting out the same time I am traveling the globe recruiting businesses to Virginia. If there's something that would be damaging toward business, and to our image around the country and the globe, I'll veto it, you bet I will." Even Windsor v. United States, the precursor to Obergefell that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, was actually a case about not wanting to pay the estate tax.
The mistake conservatives make is in thinking that Democrats are wrong about any of this. They are not, and this is the reason that politicians in the party's neoliberal center are the most popular with Wall Street and Hollywood. The liberal social views of our financial and corporate overlords are not incidental. They are integral, perhaps even inevitable. Capitalism is by definition unstable, oriented toward an endless cycle of innovation, disruption, destruction, and replacement: "All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify."
The same dynamic capitalism that right-wingers often praise forced three generations of American mothers away from their children to perform full-time wage labor and made the modern LGBT rights movement possible, and it would have been substantially impeded without widespread use of contraception and legal abortion. Social and economic solidarity cannot exist independently. The traditional family life that conservatives insist they are defending is about as likely to survive neoliberal atomization as smallholding was to outlast the industrial revolution. This is why earnest social conservatives are fools for making common cause with free marketeers. Time and again big business will accept their presents by spitting in their faces. Film and television producers are happy to take advantage of tax breaks and lax or non-existent labor regulations in states like Georgia until the minute they congratulate themselves for not doing so.
Meanwhile the promises of the Democrats are less ostentatious — they won't pass giant tax cuts, they'll just vote not to reverse them — but they make up for it by not missing half the point. They have internalized neoliberalism — which is libertarianism played adagio — in a way that most Republicans never will.