Potables v. Politics: What’s a social drinker to do

At what point do you start voting with your liver?

This is a question about a local business stepping into the fray of an emotional political debate. This issue has been dissected often and recently. But here’s the good news; the local business is not Target or General Mills. It’s not even Best Buy or any of the usual suspects trotted out when we discuss “Minnesota businesses.”  And the question is not the organization’s stepping in, but rather my personal response.

The business is good ole O’Gara’s bar in St. Paul. It seems the beloved local watering hole sponsored a rally in support of the Voter ID Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, an amendment that I personally, and strongly, oppose. Hence, my dilemma.

My initial reaction was simple. “Christ, now I can’t go to O’Gara’s anymore.” Never mind that I haven’t been there in more than five years. It still hurt that I had to shun a place that I had once included among my local favorites with owners and staff that I personally liked.

Then I thought: maybe I’m wrong. While we have every right as consumers to vote with our wallets, as someone who often separated the actions of corporations I represented as a corporate communications and marketing executive from the products/services offered, does that make me a hypocrite?  Shouldn’t I respect O’Gara’s for bravely supporting the personal values of its owners by doing what it thinks is right for its community? Didn’t I accuse PETA of being out of line when the group called for a boycott of my Microsoft Zoo Tycoon game for sanctioning the capture and imprisonment of wild animals?

Or should I punish O’Gara’s bar – perhaps only in my own mind since, again, five years since I warmed a stool there – for taking a stand on an issue with which I personally disagree?

The question isn’t really of my personal hypocrisy, as I’ve successfully demonstrated that trait often over the years.  The greater question is, is it right to support or penalize businesses or their owners for backing an issue or policy they personally support?

While my O’Gara’s quandary may only be a drop in the mug, the issue has much greater implications when you look at the many decisions we make each day involving the patronization of and purchasing from organizations out front on social and political issues.  The Koch Brothers Blue Planet gasoline, Yvon Chouinard’s Patagonia gear, Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media films, Jim Rogers Jr.’s Waffle House, etc.  Where do we draw the line and how much time and research are we expected to invest when we buy motor oil, soap or soup?

Think I’ll crack a Finnegan’s Irish Amber Ale, which taps 100% of its profits for the stocking of local food shelves, and think about it.

17 thoughts on “Potables v. Politics: What’s a social drinker to do

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    First, welcome Chris. We’re lucky to have you. Truly.

    My opinion: Businesses have the right to take a position, and their customers have a right to punish and reward them for their positions.
    They owners have choices, and we have choices. Let freedom ring.

    But beyond my grand little civics essay, what about the PR and marketing implications?

    I understand why niche businesses like Ben and Jerry’s and O’Gara’s take polarizing positiions and knowingly offend a sizeable slice of their customers. After all, they can still meet their business goals with a niche customer base.

    But I honestly don’t understand why the Targets and General Mills of the world take polarizing political positions. They’re different than the O’Gara’s of the world, because they can’t meet their business goals without attracting EVERYONE – liberals, conservatives, moderates and everyone in between.

    So for them, I don’t know why they just don’t focus on their core business instead of inserting themselves into divisive political issues. I’m not saying they don’t have the right to play politics, I’m saying it’s a dumb business practice.

    1. Chris Werle says:

      I don’t disagree Joe. This is well-traveled territory at this point, which is why I was trying to look at it from a consumer’s point of view. How much should we weigh a company’s product offering vs. social issues they support? If my Wenonah Canoe floats and I paid a reasonable price, do I care what their environmental stance is? Why is it some people care a great deal and others do not?

  2. PM says:

    Finnegan’s only makes those contributions AFTER paying their CEO and other corporate officers hefty salaries and bonuses, you know…..

    (actually, i made that up–so drink more than one).

  3. Dude –

    Welcome to the Crowded Rowd. Did anyone give you a copy of the rules?

    It’s not clear to me from reading the MinnPost story if the rally was just held at O’Gara’s or if the owners were actually sponsoring it. Do we know the back story? Maybe at a place like O’Gara’s the two things are one and the same.

    But…I’m 100% in favor of O’Gara’s having the right to host any group they want. If they want to be the venue for the Osama Bin Laden Fan Club (TC Branch), the Communist Party of America, the Klan or the Little Sisters of the Poor that’s their right. If you or I or anyone find that offensive, we have the complementary right to take or money and our thirst elsewhere.

    Of course, in Saint Paul there’s a bar every 150 feet so you’re not being shut out of much in terms of opportunity to get stupid drunk on any day of the week. It’d be a more complicated question if O’G’s was the only bar in town.

    And, as far as the big boxes go, you’re right in that they need shoppers of every stripe and – as a general rule – do everything possible to avoid distracting those shoppers from the important business of shopping. That’s why, I think, the times when they do otherwise stand out.

    Welcome aboard.

    – Austin

    1. Chris Werle says:

      Jon
      I don’t think I’ve seen an official list of rules until your link. Am I already in violation?
      You raise a good question. I didn’t dig deep enough to know if it was “officially sanctioned” by the bar/owners. But with regard to my post, it wouldn’t necessarily matter as I perceived it to be sanctioned, if not driven, by the owners and my main question was not about their right, but rather how I responded.
      As in, does it make sense for me to stop patronizing an establishment just for their belief/action? I certainly have friends in favor of the amendment and I haven’t stopped patronizing them. Sorry, bad joke, but you get my point.

    2. Jim Leinfelder says:

      To Joe’s point, O’Gara’s also hosted this event:

      http://mnunited.org/news/cretin-derham-hall-alumni-event-highlight-of-faith-action-week/

      September 14, 2012 – St. Paul, MN – More than 100 Cretin-Derham Hall High School Alumni will gather Sunday at 4:00 p.m. for the Freedom to Marry Fest at O’Gara’s Bar & Grill to discuss why they are following their conscience and voting no on the proposed amendment that would limit the freedom to marry for committed, same-sex couples in Minnesota.

      “The event will feature alumni and teachers including Nancy Scanlan, John Kennedy (’04), Jenny Marzolf (’04), Bee Rongitsch (’97) and Alfonso Wenker (’05) sharing their stories about how their Catholic faith and education at Cretin-Derham informs their belief that Catholics can and should follow their conscience this November. Organizers of the event are eager to show that large numbers of Catholics in Minnesota are “unequivocally opposed to the amendment.” Alumni will be joined by other longtime members of the Saint Paul Catholic community.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    Sure, First Amendment, right? If the expressed position is sufficiently disagreeable to the consumer vacate the place–or even organize a peaceful demonstration in response–also First Amendment–but I’m looking for my Civics book as I speak.

  5. Perfect example is Chick-Fil-A, whose COO Dan Cathy has given millions (close to $5 million) to anti-gay groups this past year. His right. My right: not to lunch there. Also, to petition our administration to get the restaurant off our campus when its contract comes up for renewal.

  6. Newt says:

    Chik-fil-A both serves and employs gays. The U has an obligation to fill its rentable space with successful, law-abiding tenants. The owner of CFA should be able to participate in Amerian politics with as much involvement as, say, any liberal foreign-born hedge fund manager.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Of course, as is the right to draft the petition, although I presume other than providing public expression for the position–it’s ultimate value– it’s likely to be denied.

    2. Newt says:

      Ellen: “And if Chick-Fil-A both provides service to (saying “serves” was sort of funny) and employs gays, then that makes him both a bigot and an even bigger hypocrite.”

      So you would rather that Mr. Cathy break the law?

      Sounds like there’s ample hypocrisy to go around. At least he’s effecting change within the framework of the law, a notion foreign to too many liberals.

      I have a novel idea. Don’t eat there. Eat elsewhere.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Newt–Why are you hung up on a citizen/consumer raising a viewpoint adversarial to the publically stated political/sociological position by a corporate entity?

  7. You’re both right, of course. But once upon a time not too long ago it was considered law-abiding not to serve blacks at restaurants and lunch counters. Do you think those owners voluntarily changed their policies? Now that may be a false equivalency since I’m talking about service and you’re talking about making political donations.
    But the university does have a well-enunciated policy against discrimination against any student on account of race, color, creed, religion, gender or sexual orientation. And if Chick-Fil-A both provides service to (saying “serves” was sort of funny) and employs gays, then that makes him both a bigot and an even bigger hypocrite.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Exactly. Precisely through this often subtle activism society changes and evolves. I hope we don’t become increasingly indifferent to acting on what we believe is right–and I hope someone will be listening.

  8. Minnesotan says:

    I’ve never understood why any business would want to wade into these politically charged issues.

    It’s one thing for me, as a potential customer of a restaurant or business, to decide if I want to patronize a business based on their public stances on these issues. But when a college like Augsburg publicly opposed the gay marriage ban, I couldn’t help but wonder what some of their students thought? Surely there are some students (and employees), who are paying huge sums in tuition each year, who don’t share that opinion. If it upsets them enough it seems their only option would be to transfer – and potentially lose thousands in credits that don’t transfer – or sit and just sit and stew about it.

    I’m against the amendment and could care less if two gay people want to get married. I just don’t understand how organizations make a determination on where they stand, and/or why they would want to take a strong public stance.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised to see lawsuits in the future. For example, an August employing claiming they were passed up for a promotion because they were known to disagree with the school’s stance on gay marriage.

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