This will probably be my last post on Epic and WMC. But there are two more things I want to say. One is ironic and the other is, I hope, instructive.
Let's see what we can learn first. Bloggers and columnists have fought over whether Epic's announcement that it would try not to use vendors who support WMC is a secondary boycott. I tried to explain why I think that's a useful description and anticipated that those who, for some reason, hate the term might want to redefine the dispute as one between Epic and WMC supporters. To his credit, Paul Soglin takes up the point here.
The problem is that this deprives the term secondary boycott of any meaning. You can define any dispute that way. You can say, for example, that your dispute is with those who enable a stingy employer or a despised country like Israel by doing business with it or with those foster the bad policies of the Republicans or Democrats by being a member and participating in their governance.
But to think that solves the problem is formalistic and glosses over what may be problematic about a "secondary boycott" in the sense that I and other Epic critics have used it.
The point here is that Epic is saying that it won't do business with people for a reason that is extraneous to what normally would govern the relationship between them. It doesn't have a problem with J.P. Cullen as a builder. It has a problem with the politics that J.P. Cullen execs support.
Soglin argues that WMC "is" its board members, i.e., they make policy. The problem is that the same can be said of any organization with a board or large contributors. Under Soglin's view, folks who are upset with Summerfest for shutting down the Army's VAE should boycott Rite Hite and other companies with execs on the Summerfest board.
There is, as I explore below, a distinction between a corporation or partnership and its managers or partners.* But, more fundamentally,even if you want to view WMC as indistinct from it members, Epic proposes to punish Cullen and others for their political stance. People may have the right to do so, but do we really want to encourage a world in which many of our relationships are politicized?
Maybe Mayor Soglin thinks so. His contemporaries used to say that the personal is the political. Perhaps the commercial is as well. In response to an earlier post here, one thoughtful commentator (Amy, Esq.)made just that argument.
But I am not persuaded for a variety of reasons, one being that it will tend to drive people out of public life. Why be upfront about your beliefs or participate in public debate or try to promote what are, by your lights, good policies if it's going to hurt business? The other is it will tend to magnify our political differences and result in a political war of all against all.
Soglin think that for Epic to fail to act in this way would be unilateral disarmament:
Halliburton owns the vice presidency. A manufacturer threatens to leave the state if it does not get tax breaks. And WMC lobbies like hell at your and my expense.
That coercive power can be used for good or evil. Listening to Schweber, it sounds like unilateral disarmamanent is the solution. Businesses that are good should not use what power they have.
Putting aside the reference to businesses that "are good" (which I think gives away the game that this is about anything but politics), I am unaware that WMC has called on a politically based boycott of anybody. If they have, they should not have. Paul's "businesses that are good" can participate in the political process. They can set up PACs, give to the Greater Wisconsin Committee and, as he puts it, "lobby like hell." They can argue that, without light rail or higher taxes and all the good things that they supposedly bring, they may need to relocate to Vermont.
And, if they do get involved in this way, I don't propose that they ought to be shunned. Heck, I'd buy lots of Ben and Jerry's if my doc and the Reddess would let me.
And now for the irony.
Let's say that I don't want to politicize all my relationships but I think that the tone of the Supreme Court race was just beyond the pale. I don't want another race where organizations with an axe to grind bundle money from unknown sources and run ads which unfairly portray the role and actions of a judge.
Maybe - if I really believe this - I'll take the extraordinary step of boycotting those who have, in Epic's words, "supported with current management" those who ran these ads.
But one of the companies that I have to boycott may well turn out to be Epic Systems Corporation. As Lance Burri and the Cap Times point out, Epic CEO Judith Faulkner gave a large amount of money to One Wisconsin Now Action. We know that One Wisconsin Now was involved in the Supreme Court race - pushing a variety of fairly dubious attacks on Gableman that were echoed in ads run by the Greater Wisconsin Committee. GWC's ads were just as bad - if not worse - than those run by WMC. Did Faulkner give to such groups?
Of course we don't know. No one does.
So as Mayor Soglin says - let's pierce the veil. Given that Epic claims that its decision was about ethics and not politics, shouldn't it confirm that none of its current management supports - or has supported - the Greater Wisconsin Committe, One Wisconsin Now or any of the other "shadowy" groups that ran anti-Gableman ads? Will it "try" not to do business with those who have? I mean, after all, it's all about ethics and not politics.
*And now for some bonus irony. Paul Soglin says that WMC is its board members. He says, for example, that "Quarles & Brady is WMC" because one of its partners serve on the board.
But, at least at one point in its existence, on Soglin's view, Quarles & Brady was also the Greater Wisconsin Committee because my old friend David Cross was on its board and even served on its President. Dave has been with Quarles for 27 years. I don't know if he still serves on the GWC board, but you get the point. Quarles & Brady is not the political actions of its partners. If it is, then it apparently has multiple personality disorder.