Monday, June 30, 2008

Business and Politics Don't Mix

I worked for an AFT campaign in the mid-90s that successfully organized a diverse group of professional state employees (WPEC), located all over the state. During an organizing trip to Green Bay in 1996, I stopped by a Chili John’s restaurant to partake in some of my favorite traveling comfort food. I’ve always missed the Chili John’s that used to be on Milwaukee's East Side a long time ago and never miss a chance to have a three-way (chili, spaghetti and cheese – now, stop that).

Looking at the menu, I was surprised to see that it was filled with juvenile political cheap-shots against then-President Bill Clinton and anyone else who wasn’t a right wing lunatic. This particular shop in the small chain, you see, had declared itself a "Rush Room"; a place where all the sadly-delusional local ditto-heads could meet to share the Rush Limbaugh experience with others who appreciated the radical-right screeds of the failed DJ from Missouri. I wasn’t there in time to share the joys of Rush with the no-doubt charming pitchfork-and-torch crew that day ("Didya hear that, Maude? He called him ‘Slick Willy’! Hoo-hah!"), but, apparently, the same menu is used all day to entertain others of similar ilk who might stumble in for a little racism and hate with their chili dogs.

Silly me – I always thought maybe restaurants selling good-to-great food might not want to exclude half of their potential customer base with offensive political diatribes. I sat there and read the menu while I reveled in my favorite chili. I don’t remember the specifics, but the menu featured sandwiches named for supposedly unpleasant characteristics of sitting presidents, vice presidents, first ladies, etc. When I was done, I found the guy who looked like he was in charge. "Is there some reason you don’t want me to eat here?" I asked. I explained to him that I didn’t appreciate having Limbaugh’s stupid politics shoved down my throat (so to speak) while I was trying to eat his delicious food. I mean, businesses make choices all the time – draperies, logos, colors – but all of them are trying to get you to come in, not to make fun of your beliefs and keep you out. It’s like walking into a McDonalds and seeing a menu making fun of Catholics or Jews or something. What’s the point? Anyway, it was the first time I had been at the place, so I left and forgot about it.

A couple of month’s later, I found myself back up in Green Bay and back at the same place. I really had forgotten the whole Rush Room thing. Then the manager walked up to me. "See, we fixed it," he said. "Fixed what?" I asked. "Well, I thought it over and figured you were right and dumped the Rush thing," he said. "Really?" I was flabbergasted. The guy got one customer complaint (at least, that’s the impression he gave me) and figured he didn’t want to lose customers to divisive politics. "Good, uh, thanks," I mumbled. He didn’t look happy about it, but, there you go – another place safe for better digestion.

I was reminded of this reading IT’s fine exposition about Judith Faulkner of Epic Systems, who took a principled stand against those companies who support the extreme right-wing agenda of WMC. This (at least) encouraged a major construction firm, J.P. Cullen, to resign from the WMC board and quit the organization altogether. Earlier this year, while WMC was pouring millions of dollars from unknown sources into their unfortunately successful campaign to buy another seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Madison hero Paul Soglin took the lead on giving WMC board members a head-up about what the renegade staff of the organization was up to. As usual, the most dangerous thing to under-the-rock slugs like those running the WMC political agenda is the light of day.

Given the industry-heavy make-up of the WMC board, it is hard for simple consumers to have the same kind of impact as Faulkner or Cullen. Boycotts as such are tough to organize and tougher to make successful. It gets down to exposing those involved, hoping for better individual choices, ripples creating waves, etc. I do know that I am off of Johnsonville brats. There – I said it. I’ll stop by in a month or two and see if they are still on the WMC board.


Anonymous said...

Can I get every Hollywood actor and mainstream musician to shut up and not give me their liberal political beliefs when I pay to see them act or perform?

Get over it.

Only a wing-nut liberal would whine and complain to the owner to change his ways instead of simply voicing their opinion by not going to their restaurant anymore.

EddyPo said...

Business is business. I'm sure the Chili place changed their ways after realizing that a liberal's money is as good as a conservative's. That's the bottom line. Mike did them a favor.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

I'm sure you have the same complaint about businesses that wear their liberal politics on their sleeve, right?

That would be intellectually honest, after all.

Mike Plaisted said...


I'm talking about mainstream businesses that do not cater to a political niche. I would expect, say, Comet Cafe on the East Side to have Obama posters all over the place and it wouldn't affect their business (or my patronage) one bit. Same with gun stores on the right. I wouldn't go there just because of their McCain posters -- I just wouldn't go there anyway.

Anonymous said...

Rationalization a great human defense mechanism, isn't it Mike?

So it's ok for a single restaurant to be anti-Bush but for an independently owned restaurant that was part of a diminishing chain it's not ok for them to be anti-Clinton.

I am willing to bet my life, Mike, that had they been anti-Bush at Chili John's that you would not have said a word. You would have smiled with glee.

Anonymous said...


Kinda new here, but do you always write utilizing childish stereotypes? Have you really convinced yourself that anyone other than east-side Milwaukee liberals have the mental capabilities to form substantive opinions?

AnotherTosaVoter said...


LOL. Nice effort at after-the-fact rationalization, but I didn't see much distinction between "mainstream" and "obviously political" businesses in the guts of the post.

Given your partisan zealotry, the idea that you'd criticize any business for having a liberal bent is extremely laughable.

Anony 1:13:

Yes and no, in that order.

Mike Plaisted said...


Hey, everything is "OK" - businesses can do whatever they want. But creating a politically offensive barrier to the enjoyment of their product is counter-productive. I know it's tough jamming my actual thoughts through your restrictive prism, but this isn't about what businesses can do -- it's what they should do.

Fraley said...

"the failed DJ from Missouri"

At 50 million per year with his new contract. Now that's spin.

Mike Plaisted said...

Yeah, I hear Mugabe is doing well, too.

Anonymous said...

But only when it's offensive to you, right Mike?

And who better than you to tell businesses what the "should do" right?

AnotherTosaVoter said...

Mugabe and Limbaugh are similar how....

I mean both are physically human, but other than that...


Matt said...

Now its easy to give up Johnsonvill brats Mike, but are you ready to give up your Springsteen?

Seems Harley supports the WMC, and as you well know the boss is playing the Harley Fest. So if one of your heroes is boosting the image of one of your nemeses- what do you do? Drink beer, dance, and promise to pay retail for Louis Butler's new book?

Mike Plaisted said...

Harley's image is what it is -- Springsteen is just coming to party.

Yeah, well, I wouldn't buy one of their bikes anyway. Maybe I can get Bruce to say something from the stage.

patrick said...

Another place safe for digestion... Interesting point about the left. They want to make every place they visit "safe for digestion". I admire the way the lefties can never just let anything go; they have this sense of purpose that forces them to try to change everything. Where we smoke, what we eat, what we drive, what we say, what we broadcast, where we drill, what type of lightbulb we use. Most of it is harmless--like the chili place. But I wonder why liberals always want to impose their morals on everything except the bedroom? They would police everything but that. Why can't they just let it go and be the tolerant people they claim to be? Interesting. I also know that people will say that conservatives would police the bedroom--equally stupid.

Mike Plaisted said...

One of my problems with conservatives is this "we get to do what we want" message that you think will get you the votes of people who want to stay stupid. Why local right-wingers carry water for the international corporations that poison us, drain our resources and pocketbooks, I have no idea.

But, given the emperical information we have on many subjects and the power of encouragement/discouragement and regulation to make the world and the people healthier, what exactly is your problem?

Where we smoke - health issue for you and everyone around you.

What we eat - America is in the midst of an obesity and diabetes epidemic. Would you prefer the experts say nothing?

What we drive - drive a big stupid car-truck all you want, but car makers should have higher milage targets. The chickens have come home to roost on this particular indulgence and those stuck with the gas-guzzlers should stop complaining.

What we say, what we broadcast - yes, well there is the small matter of those limited radio licenses and the requirement to broadcast in the public interest. Other than precious government-licensed radio frequencies, go nuts (and so you do).

Where we drill - You're kidding, right? You want to drill everywhere?

What type of lightbulb we use - nothing wrong with some healthy advice. Nobody's requiring you to do anything.

Anonymous said...

If the "we get what we want" mindset doesn't slightly ring true in our country, then why now are a majority of people supporting drilling for oil within our own country? Democrats and Republicans alike have realized how stupid and devastating it has been to rely solely on foreign oil when we have a ton of it here and that we can use our own oil until the alternative fuels/vehicles are mass produced and affordable for all.

Where we smoke - if smoking is so bad as you claim, then why not ban it everywhere? Ban the production, sale, and use of it.

What we eat - experts can say whatever they want but it's YOUR party who has begun the slow march to regulating what we eat (fast food sin tax, etc). Tell you what, I'll support this the moment after you get those who rely on taxpayer-funded food stamps to eat healthy so that I'm not paying for them to get fat and become obese and diabetic. Regulate what they eat and then we'll talk.

What we drive - why should automakers be told how many MPG their cars should get? Maybe they can be told what color interior they're allowed to have too? If automakers want to make cars that sell/don't sell, it's that their decision? Instead of placing restrictions on what they're allowed to build, why not incentivize building high MPG vehicles?

What we say, what we broadcast - last time I checked a group called "Air America" had a license to do just that...unfortunately no advertisers wanted to buy time on a majority of their affiliates because they didn't think anyone would listen...boy were they right.

Where we drill - drill everywhere? No, how about we drill in our country where we we have proven oil sources?

What type of lightbulb we use - again, advice is fine but some dems have called for mandating these types of bulbs. Again, why not incentivize their use instead of forcing their use?

tommcmahon said...

Similarly, I really don't get newspapers still going out of their way to piss off conservatives while their readership, revenues, and stock prices are tanking. Probably too late now to make a difference anyway, tho.

patrick said...

And little by little the last of our freedoms were taken away--by the left that knows better, cares more, is better informed... What part of our lives will you leave to us?

Mike? remember freedom?

matt said...

By the left, Patrick? Just what "freedom' has been taken by the left? Who is spying on you as you shop, is it the left? Who is listening to your phone calls, the left wing CIA? Who is torturing you in Guantanomo, some crazy leftists?

Oh gee, who wants to take away your right to have an abortion? Or watch your little porno on the internet?

I suppose you want to have the "right" to be "free" of things that bother you. Things I like.

Tough that you're a prude. I want people to curse on TV, think what they want without being waterboarded and yes, casual sex (often the best kind). If only my government could save me from all those other people who aren't like me.

Your platitudes are pedestrian, you are a dumbass, and this is America so I can say it. Just what are you crying about? Oh, yeah, the left.

The left says fuck you.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, leave it to left to resort to pejoratives and name-calling.

Please prove that the CIA is listening in on your conversations. Or is that what your local, left-wing blog is telling you that they're doing?

Also, please prove that detainees are being tortured at Gitmo. Is it their 3 square meals a day? Time every day to openly pray, exercise, and be outside? Oh no wait, that's our detainees whose heads are cut off with a dull blade while they're still alive. Nevermind.

So openly swearing on prime time TV is ok with you? Cliff Huxtable saying "Fuck you Claire and get me a Jello pudding pop you cunt" is perfectly ok with you? Sorry, I don't want my kids living in a society where that's allowed on network TV during prime time. And our American society has deemed that socially immoral. You want stuff like that, go live in Europe.

And hey, there's nothing wrong with a little porn's porn that involves children under 18 that's the problem.

Anonymous said...

to Matty,

The "right" says fuck you to you immoral left wing nut jobs, Matty, go fuck yourself, kill yourself, who cares