July 20, 2014

STEPHEN L. CARTER: Liberals Make ‘Profit’ a Dirty Word.

It’s been weeks since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the contraception-mandate case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, but the pace of urgent fundraising appeals has barely slackened. Several times a day, another pops up in my e-mail inbox. Some are from politicians; some are from advocacy groups; some are from various organs of the Democratic Party.

So far, the number of e-mails accurately describing the decision is, as my physics professors used to say, arbitrarily close to zero. But there’s one underlying fact they all get right: the justices ruled in favor of a “for-profit” employer. This little hyphenated term appears in e-mail after e-mail, suggesting that it’s the for-profitness that creates the perniciousness.

Now, don’t worry. I’m not going to use this column to add to the flood of arguments about whether Hobby Lobby was rightly or wrongly decided. What interests me is why exactly fundraisers believe that including the term “for-profit” will raise the ire of their contributors.

The only reasonable interpretation is that the fundraisers believe — or believe that their targets believe — that there is something wrong with profit, that the proprietors of a for-profit firm are less admirable than those who run companies pursuing other goals. True, the various religious universities whose lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s contraception mandate will be before the Supreme Court next year certainly have their critics, but they somehow don’t manage to excite the same degree of disdain as a profit-making firm. And although the National Organization for Women gamely included the Little Sisters of the Poor in its list of the “Dirty 100” seeking exemptions from the mandate, all it garnered was for well-earned ridicule.

That’s why the fundraisers have been so careful to remind their targets that Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company. They are hinting that profit is different from other motivations. Less noble. Maybe even wicked.

Well, sure. A company that turns a profit is self-sufficient.

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