The Wall Street Journal and Jonathan Adler are all het up about the unprecedented, nefarious tactic suddenly invented by liberals: secondary boycotts. WSJ waxes teary-eyed over all those poor corporations missing out on some tiny fraction of potential profits simply because they’re funding anti-democratic legislation, reactionary politicians, environmental disaster, slaveringly vicious fascist radio freaks, or the maintenance of their own oligopolies. Nasty liberals have been boycotting the people who are funding the destruction of America, and it’s just not fair. Adler is not only shocked, but unbelieving; this is a “new” tactic to which nobody has ever before sunk.
Nobody except conservatives since the dawn of time. Secondary boycotts – boycotting the supporters or enablers of those who are the primary source of some disapproved act – have been ubiquitous on the right wing. Eight years ago (aaaaggh!) I wrote about the insatiable penchant of wingnuts for boycotts on ideological grounds – follow the link and you’ll see that most of those listed are secondary boycotts, aimed not whoever did whatever it is they hate so much, but those who advertise with them, employ them, or even allow them into their places of business. It’s a much older story than that; threats of boycotts have routinely been used against those who in any way do business with abortion providers, including those who provide their cleaning services, pick up their trash, or even do construction to build the clinics. Secondary boycotts are a specific tactic recommended in the anti-abortion harassment manual Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, which has been in circulation for 20 years. Then there was the threatened boycott of CBS by the entire Republican Congressional caucus when Dan Rather included a forged document in his otherwise accurate reporting on George Bush’s military desertion, specifically to force that private business to fire one specific employee they had targeted (Rather). One might include the orchestrated, nationwide assault on Planned Parenthood, supposedly to prevent funding of abortion services from funding sources that don’t pay for abortions, but which have the (intended?) effect of destroying healthcare access for hundreds of thousands of women. Or the time during the GW Bush administration that the RNC informed all the K Street lobbying firms in Washington that they would have no access to Congress or the White House if they employed any former Democratic staff as lobbyists.
It’s certainly true that secondary boycotts can be pernicious, and in some ways unfair. (Though why you are supposed to overlook the fact that a given entity actively supports people or practices you abhor is not clear.) I have blogged several different times about how destructive they can be – in each case in defense of right-wingers, even the most repulsive wingers of all, against other right-wingers, because they’re the ones who constantly employ this tactic. (I’ll admit, too, that I’m somewhat ambivalent on the issue. As noted above, there is a reason to object to those who support those you object to. But at least my objection to Adler and the WSJ is not intended only to benefit one side of the political spectrum.)
But whatever you think about that, the articles linked at the top of the post are offensive in their stupidity, unfairness, and historical ignorance. The left never invented secondary boycotts. The tactic is in no way “new” (for one thing, it was the subject of Constitutional labor-law litigation close to 100 years ago). And most of all, it has been a constant, ceaseless, and far-reaching tactic of the right wing for decades. The Wall Street Journal only noticed when it finally affected their 1%-er lackeys ALEC, Limbaugh, and Beck. I defy anyone to find a WSJ editorial defending women’s health clinics against secondary boycotts to make their services unusable, or public universities against legislative assaults on their budgets for sponsoring liberal student groups, or even major corporations like Disney or McDonald’s for treating gays and transgendered persons with dignity.
In the same way that right-wing delusionality and projection constantly ascribes their own behavior to the left, suddenly the few, recent secondary boycotts that have been aimed at the most vicious and destructive figures on the right become a “new” and supremely abhorrent tactic – one that has been practiced with abandon for decades by the right wing without objection from the same sources. Why should we care about them now, when they never cared about anyone else before?
UPDATE: Fixed typos.
UPDATE: Here’s a new one: harassing the neighbors of the in-laws of the landlord of an abortion clinic. That’s because stalking the landlord’s children at their elementary school didn’t work. What do we call this? A tertiary boycott? Quaternary? How long would you be willing to hold your breath waiting for the Wall Street Journal to show any sympathy?