Change may be politically expedient, but it will have serious costs. Conservatives have already learned that free markets are an engine that produces widespread prosperity – and that government interference is too often a key to the works. Picking winners and losers, and otherwise substituting the preferences of legislators and bureaucrats for the logic of supply and demand, interferes with 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 barrier to unforeseen innovations that are constantly improving our lives.
But conservatives look to more than markets; perhaps they look to the rule of law itself. The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting people’s ability to speak, publish, broadcast, and seek redress for grievances, precisely because America’s Founders viewed criticism of its leaders as a God-given right. Calling attention to mistakes and advocating for a better way forward are some of the fundamental mechanisms by which “we the people” hold our government accountable. Using state power to punish someone for disadvantaged political speech is a gross violation of this ideal.
The American economy is plagued by cronyism, such as subsidies or regulatory exemptions, which give certain companies advantages that are not available to everyone. This too mocks free markets and the rule of law, transferring wealth from taxpayers and consumers to politically connected elites. But while ending cronyism is a laudable goal, selectively revoking privileges from companies that fall out of favor with the ruling party is not good government reform.
One might doubt the retaliatory nature of the Republicans’ corporate-speak inversion, but for their inability to stop showing up in front of the cameras and stating the quiet part out loud. In the very act of signing the law that removes the special purpose district from Disney and several others, Mr. DeSantis said: “You are a company based in Burbank, California, and you will mobilize your economic power to attack parents in my state. We consider this a provocation and we will fight against it.
But if the power of government can be used for brazen attacks on American businesses and nonprofits, what can’t is it for that? If it is legitimate for politicians to retaliate against groups for political speech, 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 up isn’t sacred, what chance do the people have of resist an authoritarian turn?
Conservatives, faced with these questions, once championed free markets and limited government as essential bulwarks against tyranny. Abandoning these commitments is no small concession to the changing times, but an abject desecration, for cheap political gain, of everything they have long pretended to believe.
For decades, the “fusionist” governing philosophy – which, by bringing together the values of individual liberty and traditional morality, charges the government with protecting freedom so that the people are free to live virtuous lives – has united conservatives and gave the Republican Party a cohesive driving force. This philosophy would reject the idea that politicians should have discretion over what positions companies are allowed to take or what opinions people are allowed to express.