There was much for urban, blue-state conservatives to enjoy in the left-wing freakout over Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s comparison of Obamacare to “fascism” earlier this week. It was almost too much for National Public Radio, where Mackey first made his remarks, and whose audience overlaps considerably with Whole Foods’ customer base. (Many will be going without their wheat grass and spelt flakes in protest this week.)
Mackey soon walked back his remarks in an interview with NPR’s New York affiliate, saying that he had chosen his words poorly, though he stuck to his specific criticisms of Obamacare in a post on Whole Foods’ blog. In a review of public reaction to the controversy, NPR’s Morning Edition read comments critical of Mackey–but failed to include any that supported him, of which there were many at Whole Foods’ website (one Leslie Davison, for example, wrote: “I thought that your word choice was right on, true and accurate. Don’t apologize.”)
Was Mackey correct about “fascism”? There are always perils in the use of historical analogy. Some terms translate well from their countries of origin into different situations; others do not. The Afrikaans term “apartheid” is specific to South Africa; the Norwegian Quisling has become the “quisling” we all know and scorn.
There are those who argue that “fascism” ought not apply outside of its original European context. But fascism was not uniquely Italian or Spanish or German; though historians and political scientists still dispute its precise definition, it was an ideology that, among other things, prescribed a state control of the economy without state ownership thereof. Perhaps Mackey could have used the word “corporatist” instead, which refers to the economic system without all the emotive connotations.
And indeed, Obamacare directs individuals to purchase insurance and dictates the terms under which private companies shall provide it. It does not actually run the health insurance industry–that would be socialism, the end goal of many Obamacare supporters–but controls it.
Regardless, what irks the left is not so much Mackey’s choice of words but his continued opposition to Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Furthermore, Mackey has gone further than saying “no” to Obamacare–has actually proposed an alternative based on the model Whole Foods uses for insuring its own employees. That led, Mediaite reminds us, to protests and boycotts by the organized left, most of which amounted to nothing.
What is so remarkable about Mackey’s continued dissent is the ideological journey behind it. In an interview with Greta van Susteren on Fox News last night, Mackey described how he began as a leftist who hated corporations and could not see himself as a businessman. He changed his views over the course of his quest to bring healthy food to the American consumer, and developed a vision of socially conscious capitalism that combines libertarian skepticism of the government with communitarian relationships with customers, employees and suppliers.
Mackey is a specimen of that peculiar generation that came of age, and founded enterprises, in the 1970s. We remember that decade as an era of big government, stagflation, international crisis and personal excess. But a handful of pioneers–particular in the new world of computers–took a risk on the old American entrepreneurial dream, and laid the foundations for the prosperity of the decades that followed, enabled by the rise of a new conservative politics whose intellectual currents had been flowing just beneath the service the whole time.
What NPR and its listeners could not bear, apparently, was the conviction that to be truly socially conscious, one must first be free to succeed. Mackey’s plain talk–with or without the dreaded “f” or “s” words–is an antidote to the doublethink of blue state liberals, who despise the very system that has allowed many of them to succeed.