Conservatives and Employer Liberty

I haven’t had much to say about the Brendan Eich controversy, other than to link to my colleague Martin Longman’s piece exploding the idea that somehow the First Amendment should protect Eich’s CEO gig. Beyond that, I think it a mite unfair that Eich lost his job for holding the same position on marriage equality in 2008 that Barack Obama then held, but presumably he could have shown that his own views had “evolved,” and at any rate, I’m not a shareholder or officer at Mozilla, so what business is it of mine?

It’s this last point that makes the conservative reaction to the Eich firing so amazingly hypocritical, as noted by Brian Beutler at TNR:

It’s been less than two months since the country concluded a big public debate over the rights of employers vis a vis their employees and their customers—a debate in which conservatives overwhelmingly advanced the view that business owners shouldn’t be compelled to do just about anything that conflicts with their religious beliefs…

Six weeks later, those same conservatives are mourning the end of American pluralism. What happened? An employer effectively terminated one of its executives in accordance with deeply held principles (and, I should note, in the company’s financial interest). But the person who lost his job in this case wasn’t fired by a bigoted boss for the sin of being gay. Rather, he resigned under pressure from his board of directors for the sin of helping a campaign that sought to nullify same-sex marriages.

The Hobby Lobby case has led most conservatives to the proposition that employers should be able to self-designate a zone of immunity from compliance with duly enacted laws that allegedly violate their consciences. The Eich case does not involve the violation of any laws. So why shouldn’t Mozilla be free to drop Eich if they wish? Hard to say:

What all of this reveals is that the animating issue for conservatives isn’t abstract principle, but the privileges they are losing, or sense that their tribesmen are losing. This also explains why the reaction on the right has been so whiny and hyperbolic. Eich’s supporters think it’s appropriate for there to be repercussions for engaging in speech they don’t like, but not for engaging in speech they do like. And, very suddenly, speech they like is becoming culturally disfavored.

Live by the market, die by the market.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.