PURITANISM, wrote H.L. Mencken, is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” Half a century later, the prissiest Americans are haunted by a different fear: that they may buy cheese made by someone whose opinions they do not share. To help people avoid this calamity, a new app called BuyPartisan reveals whether any given product is made by Republicans or Democrats.
Using an iPhone’s camera, it scans the barcode and reports back on the ideology (as measured by donations to political parties) of the directors and staff of the company in question. Obsessive partisans can then demonstrate their commitment to diversity by boycotting firms with which they disagree. “We vote every day with our wallets,” trills an advert.
Latte-sipping, iPad-toting liberals will be relieved to hear that the directors of Starbucks donated five times as much to Democrats as to Republicans; those of Apple gave 30 times as much. But not all political loyalties are as predictable. For example, the directors of the Quinoa Corporation, which sells “organic gluten-free quinoa pasta” to the NPR-listening classes, donate almost entirely to the Republican Party. For some consumers, that will spoil the taste. Or would, if it were possible to make quinoa taste worse.
BuyPartisan’s maker, Spend Consciously, was founded by a former Capitol Hill staffer, Matthew Colbert. He is cagey about whether he is a Democrat or a Republican, but hopes that the app will eventually include data on things like how firms treat their employees. It has caused a stir in Washington, where political junkies have had fun testing whether their favourite snacks are red or blue. But will it affect American shopping habits?
For shoppers with jobs, children and limited spare time, probably not. A mother with a baby strapped to her chest in a Safeway supermarket in Washington explains why. The idea of scanning every sausage or toilet roll for its political affiliation is “just crazy”, she says. “If I want to eat gummy bears, I will eat gummy bears. I don’t care if they’re Republican.” For some products, there is no obvious alternative. Democrats whose cars run out of petrol, for example, will probably fill up at the nearest petrol station, even though oil firms donate mostly to Republicans.
Republicans and Democrats do have different shopping habits, observes Vishal Singh, an academic who studies marketing at NYU Stern. Republicans tend to drink more American beers; Democrats more foreign and craft brews. In Republican-voting districts Cracker Barrel, a southern-themed restaurant, is common; upscale Whole Foods shops cluster in Democratic areas. But this mostly reflects the different lives Democrats and Republicans lead. Southern food is popular, unsurprisingly, in the South, which is heavily Republican. Costly groceries are popular with affluent urbanites, who tend to be Democrats.
Some firms are straightforwardly politicised. On September 8th religious conservatives mourned the death of Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick Fil-A, whose son’s public opposition to gay marriage prompted boycotts of the family’s fried-chicken joints. But most firms are just trying to make a buck, and most shoppers are just looking for dinner.
Ugh. Shouldn’t we all just aim for finding who will provide the best goods / services at the best prices?
And moreover, just because someone donates to a particular political party, doesn’t necessarily tell you what their particular ideology is; after all, parties are big tents; for instance, Democrats include both liberal, bicoastal urban prog types, and more conservative Dixiecrats; while Republicans include both social conservatives and libertine libertarians, and ‘crunchy con’ Eastern Orthodox ‘organic’ food enthusiasts like Rod Dreher… I think an app that tells you which side of the Prop. 8 campaign a Californian CEO donated to would give you a better idea of whether or not they mesh ideologically with what you believe – if that’s really important.
It tends to be the Left who thinks and acts upon that whole ‘the personal is political’ mindset; e.g. only hardcore leftists would be ‘vegansexuals‘; I really can’t see any rightists caring about that sort of thing to quite the same obsessive degree. I like certain Ben & Jerry’s ice creams; I don’t care that they’re prog hippies; if I want their ice cream, I’ll buy some! Same with craft beers.
That said, we live in a time when progs will boycott a small, independent restaurant if the manager has donated to or vocally supported Prop. 8 and the like; while I might wish we trads would all take the high road and demonstrate a better way to live, I can’t really blame anyone of our ilk who decide that they don’t want to patronize businesses owned by those who fundamentally disagree with us; if they can do it, no reason why our side can’t, either. Turnabout is fair play, as they say…
Still, it’s sad that it’s come to this. And I do think a case can be made that there’s a difference between a company whose owners / excecutives vocally and loudly support a particular party or cause, and one whose owners / directors quietly, without press conferences, go about supporting in their free time whatever parties or causes they find themselves sympathetic towards; I’m less inclined to get worked up about the latter group than I am about the former, even if I disagree with them.
It’s analogous to those of our ilk who want to only patronize Christian businesses. Okay, but count me out. I don’t care if my car mechanic is a Christian or not; I want good workmanship for a reasonable price; I don’t see why I need to care about whether or not he or she is a believer. Why should I?
Ditto political affiliations and ideologies.
Because ultimately, if we’re going to be that petty, why not just separate into different nations entirely? That’s the ultimate extrapolatio ad absurdum, if you will, of the hyper-partisan position; why bother to even live in the same country as people with whom you both fundamentally disagree AND won’t do business with because of how much you care about such things? Just create Tradlandia and Proglandia, and be done with it, already! Sheesh.
*Update: I have expanded in the comments about my beliefs and practices, in this regard. In brief, I’ve already indicated, in posts about decidedly pro-gay companies, that we might well want to take our business elsewhere, and I’m not contradicting myself in what I wrote above, IMO. See my comments below for more.