Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Are America's Corporations Now Pro-Gay?

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson announced today that he won't be signing the "religious freedom" bill passed by the state legislature, and it sure isn't because of his deep concern for the welfare of gay Arkansans. You can reduce it to two factors: first, he surely wanted to avoid the PR disaster and boycotts that Indiana is now suffering through, and second, Walmart. The Arkansas-based behemoth, the state's pride, joy, and largest private employer, released a statement condemning the bill, saying it "threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

You may not think of Walmart as a particularly progressive company, and they aren't. But in truth, they aren't a particularly conservative company either. Why does Walmart fight unions with all its might and pay its workers as little as it thinks it can get away with? It isn't because of some Randian philosophy, it's because they long ago decided that profit can be maximized by keeping prices and costs as low as possible, and they've proven themselves spectacularly good at achieving those goals. You might counter that there are companies like Costco that treat employees better and also make healthy profits, and you'd be right. But Walmart does what it does because of its perception of what's good for its bottom line.

That isn't to say that every business leader sees only dollars and cents in every decision, but personal feelings tend only to come into play when the lack of business risk allows it. Tim Cook of Apple may write an op-ed condemning the Indiana law because of what he personally believes, and because he knows that those beliefs are shared by most of his employees. But Indiana isn't a big part of Apple's long-term plans one way or another. Walmart, on the other hand, has a critical stake in Arkansas, and in 2015, that means they don't want the state to be viewed as intolerant.

We've now reached a point where companies even in very conservative areas realize that being gay-friendly is important to recruiting, not so much because they want to recruit gay employees, but because they want to recruit employees who find an inclusive work environment attractive. And when you're in a state like Indiana or Arkansas, you have to work extra hard to be able to recruit the best people.

I'm not trying to insult those states, but the truth is that there aren't that many kids living in, say, California who dream of one day moving to Pine Bluff or Gary. If your company is headquartered in New York or Seattle or Miami, on the other hand, you don't have to worry as much about whether you're going to be able to convince people to move there, or whether you can keep talented local people from leaving. But that is something that a company like Walmart does worry about.

For every corporation like Hobby Lobby that has an ideology it will pursue even at the expense of profits, there are a hundred others that are happy to shift with changing times if doing so is good business. My guess is that Mike Pence not only didn't expect the firestorm of activism that would greet Indiana's religious freedom bill, he also didn't realize how quickly major corporations would come out against it. But it wasn't personal. It's just business.

Get Ready For the Munich Analogies

Wikimedia Commons

If the negotiators from the U.S. and other nations succeed in getting an agreement to restrain Iran's nuclear program, Republicans will of course object that the deal is terrible and gives away the store to the Ayatollahs. We know this because they've been saying that for months, even though they don't actually know what's in the deal. It's enough to know that 1) it was negotiated by Barack Obama's government, and 2) it's a deal with an adversary, which by definition must be weak and craven. But there's something else we're going to be hearing a lot: Munich analogies.

I can make that prediction with certainty as well, because we've already heard plenty of them. But as I discuss at the Plum Line today, we should be absolutely clear what those who talk about Munich are saying:

Many of us roll our eyes and poke fun at endless Hitler analogies, but in this case their use is extremely revealing. If you believe that the negotiations with Iran are the equivalent of those in Munich in 1938, what you're basically saying is that war with Iran is inevitable, so we might as well get started on it right away. After all, it isn't as though, had Chamberlain left Munich without an agreement, Hitler would have retired and gone back to painting. The whole point of the "appeasement" argument is that the enemy cannot be appeased from his expansionist aims, and the only choice is to wage war.

That's what Iran hawks are arguing: We shouldn't pussyfoot around trying to find a diplomatic solution to this problem when there's going to be a war no matter what.

You can call this clear-eyed realism, or you can call it terrifying lunacy. But it would be nice if they would admit that war is indeed what they're advocating. Up until now, only a few conservatives have been willing to say so. I'd like to hear their argument, and not a bunch of "all options should be on the table" hedging, but a real case for why launching a war on Iran really is the best of the available options.

I'd like to think that after the disaster of Iraq, the American people would hear that debate and emphatically say that war with Iran is such a spectacularly stupid idea that no one who advocates it should get within a mile of the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon. But maybe they wouldn't — maybe enough dark warnings about how the Iranians will soon turn Omaha and Augusta and Topeka to wastelands of rubble would be enough to get the war juices flowing once again. After all, it has been a whole twelve years since we started a war, and given the history of the last few decades we're way past due. So who's the brave Republican willing to run on a war platform? I'm sure a couple of them will step up.

Photo of the Day, Enormous Man Edition

A tot is understandably distressed at being hauled up to participate in the opening ceremonies of a sumo tournament in Himeji, Japan. Equally distressed is the guy on the right, who is appalled at this blatant violation of sumo tournament rule 62.a.(1), which reads in its entirety, "No babies."

Marco Rubio Gets Surprisingly Specific on Indiana

If you've been watching Indiana Governor Mike Pence over the last few days as the "religious freedom" law he passed has been getting so much attention, you've noticed that there are many questions he really, really does not want to answer. He doesn't want to get into specifics or hypotheticals, even when those specifics and hypotheticals—like what different type of discrimination might be allowed under this law—are absolutely vital to understanding it. But I was pleasantly surprised to see one Republican politician who was willing to get specific over this issue: Marco Rubio. Here he is appearing on Fox News's "The Five"—the relevant portion begins at around 3:45:

I don't happen to agree with Rubio on most of what he says, but at least he's addressing it. Let's break it down:

"No one here is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation. I think that's a consensus view in America."

Actually, if you object to nondiscrimination laws that cover gay people, as most conservatives do, then you do think that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation. That doesn't mean you think it's a good idea, but you do think it ought to be legal. But now we know that Rubio doesn't feel that way, which is a good start. And it's something that conservatives ought to be asked about, because they always fall back on "Well I don't like discrimination, and I think it's wrong." But that's not what we're debating; we're debating whether the law ought to prohibit it. Let's move on:

"The flip side of it is, though, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God? ... What about the religious liberties of Americans who do not want to feel compelled by law to provide a catering service or a photography service to a same-sex marriage that their faith teaches is wrong?"

The line Rubio is drawing seems very common-sense: If we're asking someone to participate in some meaningful way in a same-sex wedding, like baking a cake for it, that's different from just letting a same-sex couple eat in your restaurant. But in practice, it would be extremely difficult to write legislative language that made this distinction clear. For instance, what if the couple asks you to make the cake, but puts on the two little figurines themselves, so you aren't making it all gay? What if they come in and buy a cake that you've already made instead of having one custom-made, but you can tell they're going to use it for their gay wedding? Can you refuse to sell it to them then? Can a hotel refuse to book same-sex couples for their honeymoons, but not for ordinary vacations? It would be awfully hard to write a law that would provide clear guidance for all those kinds of situations.

One of the Fox hosts then points out that a photographer who wants to refuse to take pictures for an interracial wedding would be prohibited from doing so by law, and Rubio responds: "That's not the same thing, because here you're talking about the definition of an institution, not the innate value of a single human being. That's the difference between the civil rights movement and the marriage equality movement."

Of course you're talking about the innate value of a single human being, or in this case, two single human beings who are intending to no longer be single. But did you notice there that Rubio used the term "marriage equality"? Not too many times you'll hear a Republican say that. I'm guessing he won't make that mistake again.