Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Right wingers call for another stupid boycott

A half-assed boycott attempt to intimidate Kerry from, well I'm not really sure what.
There's been alot of calls for boycotts from the right lately--Spanish olives, French wines, now Heinz ketchup. (Notice what's not on the list: Saudi oil, without which there would have been no funding for 9/11.) Now it was pretty easy calling for these incredibly ineffective boycotts. Most people have frankly never bought a French wine or a Spanish olive in their lives. Heinz ketchup will be a harder sell. And, as this article points out, the boycott will only hurt the company and not John Kerry. It's a weak attempt to draw attention to his wealth, specifically to make people uncomfortable with the fact that his wife is wealthier than he is.
Anyway, this series of pseudo-boycotts pretty much function soley to keep conservative complaints in the news, but I have to wonder if they honestly think that they are participating in honest-to-god boycotts. It's similiar to when conservatives scramble to call somebody racist to score political points, in that it's apathetic verision of "Neener neener" to liberals. They are fronting and it's an elaborate and badly executed mockery of liberalism. Because, of course that liberals aren't fronting, so there's a sincerity gap there.
Boycotts are delicate things, and unless there is an entire ecosystem that has to be maintained for a boycott to be effective. Most liberal boycotts fail for some reason or another, in fact. For one thing, the product or service being boycotted has to have a real significance to the community, both symbolic and economic. The Montgomery bus boycott is the textbook example--economically, the bus line depended on black riders. Symbolically, the bus was a microcosm of the larger Montgomery area.
Secondly, the boycott has to withhold funds that are being used to directly affect the issue at hand. Again, in the Montgomery bus boycott, the buses needed the money that black riders brought in to enact their oppressive policies. This is also why, as far as I can tell, boycotting Chilean wines was ineffective. It's not like the government was using vineyard money to fund their activities. Thirdly, it's best if the business being boycotted knows exactly why they are being boycotted or it's likelier than not to get chalked up to other factors.
And of course, boycotts work best if they are a matter of having the courage of your convictions. They tend to work best in situations where a real injustice is being funded. They're not really so great at scoring cheap political points.
I didn't mention the relevance of time or numbers in this. While both are certainly important, they are hard to measure in any critical capacity. Short, dramatic boycotts are best but hard to organize. Long-term, slow-moving boycotts are certainly worth undertaking. A really good example is how people have slowly been boycotting factory farm meat and turning towards organic meat. It's taking forever and it's still tiny numbers, but those numbers have done alot to revive the free range ranchers of West Texas. So keep boycotting Coors and Wal-Mart, and keep spreading the word. And definitely keep giving your business to small businesses, as it keeps them alive.
Conservative boycotts don't fit any of my criteria, really. Take the boycott of French wines. The vast majority of Americans could care less about French wine, and French wine-makers don't care about us. French vineyards have no control over their government's policies. Most importantly, there was no courage in the convictions of the supposed boycotters. They were in a position to drink Australian instead of French wines because they were still sitting their asses at home drinking wine. Compare this to the people getting their ass kicked in Montgomery in the 1960's. Or, if you want a contemporary example, the Coors boycott is part of a larger infrastructure of clinics and feminist organizations supporting birth control rights.
This Heinz boycott doesn't fit either. Heinz money doesn't go to the Kerry campaign. The source of funds is really only relevant if there is political payola at the end of it, such as the huge tax cuts that Bush pays back his backers with. There's no courage and no convictions. There's nothing particularly immoral about a politician being married to a wealthy woman.
Mostly, calling for one boycott or another is just another example of a Conservative Temper Tantrum, where they act like they think liberals act but because they don't really understand it, it just comes off as so much whining. Which makes me wonder--if they think that boycotting is just so much liberal whining, then what must they think of the Montgomery bus boycott?

Via August Pollack

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