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Leave the Punishment of "Woke" Companies to the Private Sector
Revisiting a basic conservative principle.
The other day, Ted Cruz went on Fox News to discuss a monumental issue of profound national importance. I’m joking, of course... He complained some more about Bud Light being “woke.”
Yes, there’s apparently still some political traction left in this culture battle, and Cruz is unsurprisingly taking full advantage.
Fox host Brian Kilmeade led the segment, saying to Cruz, “You want to investigate what Bud Light was doing with Dylan Mulvaney. It destroyed a brand that may not recover. What’s your focus?”
Cruz nodded and replied, “I can’t think of a company in modern times that has more alienated its customer base, and seems to have so little understanding of who it is that actually drinks Bud Light.”
Just to quickly remind everyone, Ted Cruz is not a Fox Business analyst, nor is he a corporate public-relations guru. I suppose it’s possible he owns Anheuser-Busch stock, which could at least explain a personal investment in the beer company’s ill-considered marketing campaign with Mulvaney (a transgender social-media star), but Cruz’s primary job, when he’s not podcasting, is in the U.S. Senate. There he represents the great state of Texas.
Anyway, by calling for an investigation, Cruz believes he has a public role to play in this matter. He explained that he and Senator Marsha Blackburn sent a letter to the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, stating their concern that by hiring Mulvaney for an ad, the company had marketed beer to children.
“Remember the whole ‘Joe the Camel’ thing,” he told Kilmeade. “This is the same thing here.”
Cruz sees that decades-old example of government intervention in private-sector advertising (which was predicated off a cartoon camel’s mass-familiarity with kids) as solid precedent for using the weight of his public office to keep Anheuser-Busch on the culture-war hot-seat.
“A massive percentage of Dylan Mulvaney’s audience are kids,” Cruz told Kilmeade, without stating the percentage. “And Budweiser was trying, I believe, with this ill-fated marketing attempt, to target teenagers. If you look at things Dylan Mulvaney has online, it’s things like ‘Days of Girlhood.’ There’s another video where Dylan Mulvaney is singing ‘My name is Eloise and I am six.’ There’s another one where Dylan Mulvaney is shopping for Barbie dolls.”
Cruz apparently spent a lot of time researching Mulvaney’s social-media adventures. (That’s your U.S. tax dollars at work, folks.)
The senator was so pleased with his Fox segment that he later posted it on Twitter, along with the statement: “Bud Light owes the American people answers about why they targeted kids and teenagers by partnering with Dylan Mulvaney.”
Oh, where to begin.
Let’s start with some obvious points, and then move on to the bigger picture…
Even if one believes (and many people don’t) that the FTC and members of congress were on solid footing in the early 90s with their ultimately successful campaign to cancel Joe Camel, we were talking about a cartoon character, created by the cigarette industry, that was prominent in American culture through magazines, posters, and billboards to market a product that was easily accessible to teens, including through vending machines. Heck, you only had to be 18 back then to legally purchase a pack.
That isn’t the case with alcohol. Teenagers can’t legally or easily purchase it in a country where you’re required to show someone an I.D., and the drinking age is 21. Dylan Mulvaney is neither a cartoon character, nor a teen idol. We’re talking about a 26 year-old pseudo-celebrity, with a fraction of the following of actual celebrities, who was paid to do a one-minute Instagram ad. Cruz’s insistence that Anheuser-Busch marketed beer to kids, because Mulvaney sometimes posts content Cruz thinks appeals to kids, is profoundly stupid.
I mean, do you know one thing that really appeals to kids? Dogs. But no one in Congress ever threw a fit over Spuds MacKenzie, a Bud Light ad-campaign that was far more comparable to Joe Camel (and may have even had a larger reach).
I don’t think I’m breaking any news by saying this, but in a political era that’s largely defined by outrage (including that of the manufactured variety), Ted Cruz is a phonier politician than most. There are few still-damp culture-battles that he won’t performatively pick up and wring out for a little extra attention on himself.
That said, Cruz’s nanny-state angle on this one is a card that he, and any other self-described conservative, would have been too embarrassed to play a few years ago. The Mulvaney controversy with Bud Light should have absolutely nothing to do with the government. It’s purely a private sector issue, a point people like Cruz would have been arguing themselves prior to the Republican party’s MAGA-inspired embrace of populist grievance.
Consumers have already punished (and continue to punish) Anheuser-Busch over its marketing campaign. The company’s beer sales have been down dramatically, and the incident has served as a lesson in how capitalism works. In the private sector, private companies have the right to make poor business decisions, and unsatisfied customers have the right to criticize those decisions and withhold their patronage.
Things were working just fine.
But because “wokeness” is the arch-nemesis of the populist-right, letting the market deal with such issues is now seen as a wasted opportunity by some Republican leaders. Cruz now feels perfectly at ease using the power of government to target a “woke” company, and he’s not alone. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ burdensome battle with Disney stems from the same sentiment. So does Republican Senator J.D. Vance’s endorsement of the government seizing the assets of private institutions over their expressed political views.
At its root level, this would seem to be a mainstreaming of Bernie Sanders’ ideological vision of the proper relationship between the state and private sector. And it’s happening within the Republican party!
I get that stuff like this has become catnip for a loud portion of the base, but it is self-defeating for the country, and an absolute waste of government time and resources. Rather than focus on perceived victories that come at the expense of basic conservative (and traditionally American) principles, the party should be focused on actual victories — you know, like persuading voters and winning elections.
Leave purely private-sector beefs to the private sector. They’re better dealt with there anyway.