Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, the parent company of CBS, told the Wall Street Journal that he’s backing George W. Bush for president.
“I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom. I vote for what’s good for Viacom….from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on.”
Redstone has previously described himself as a liberal Democrat. He has been a reliable source of contributions to Democratic candidates and even co-chaired Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign in 1972.
So why the conversion?
Hard-boiled cynics might point out that CBS is embroiled in the RatherGate fake memo debacle and this political rebirth is an attempt at penitance. As I am only soft-to-medium boiled myself, I will only allude to what the hard-boiled cynics might say. The more significant revelation is that Mr. Redstone is confessing to giving his vote away to the corporate institution that he controls.
The right to vote in this country is the citizen’s opportunity to to have an impact on the nature and direction of the government. The most basic principle of democracy is that the voter has the ability to make decisions about government that are in the voter’s and/or the public’s interest. If corporations were meant to have a vote in these matters, the Constitution, or a subsequent amendment, would have granted it (perhaps I shouldn’t give them any ideas).
This is important because of the inherent differences in the interests of citizens and the interests of corporations. While the public interest may be broadly diverse ideologically, it remains within boundaries that affect lifestyle, welfare and culture. These include personal and community concerns such as family, healthcare, education, security, even morality. On the other hand, corporate interests are neither broad nor diverse nor even ideological. They have only one agenda: to return value to shareholders. That’s a perfectly good agenda to be discussed and voted upon in the boardroom (although it wouldn’t hurt to introduce some morality there as well). But it is wholly inappropriate for that standard to be applied to the civic duty we engage in when voting.
Mr. Redstone has done a disservice to his fellow citizens by allowing his most selfish and mercinary impulses to overpower his common sense and patriotism. I would hope he has second thoughts about his vote and his public announcments of support. He can still choose to act on what’s best for America as a whole and not on what’s best for the congregation of Viacom shareholders.