On Romney and Corporate Personhood

If you’ve been following the Republican presidential primary pit stop in Iowa this week, then you probably heard about Romney’s response to hecklers on the taxation of corporations. If not, here’s the clip and here’s a WaPo summary. The key soundbite is: “Corporations are people, my friend.” This soundbite has set off a lot of commentary about corporate personhood, a legal doctrine in the US that holds that corporations are persons and thus entitled to certain protections (see Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad [1886]).

The thing is, in spite of the juicy soundbite, Romney’s not actually talking about corporate personhood. If you go on to watch the rest of the clip, Romney actually rhetorically undermines that argument that corporations are, in and of themselves, persons: “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes? … Human beings, my friend.” here Romney is arguing that, at the end of the day, corporations are tools of individuals, and their proceeds go to individuals. Implicitly, albeit weakly, this claim is opposed to the “corporations are persons” way of thinking. So, it makes sense to accuse Romney of being out of touch, and not understanding that the people corporate earnings go to are mostly a very elite group, or you can accuse him of being a thoughtful class warrior on behalf of the rich, but it seems misleading to bring corporate personhood into it. Why do it?

There are at least two possible interpretations of the left’s reaction being in terms of corporate personhood: first, it’s possible folks on the left* are so incensed about corporate personhood and all that entails that we key off the particular phrasing (“Corporations are people”) and ignore the context. Second, it could be a strategic misreading to bring up the issue and to keep the very out-of-touch soundbite alive in the media (I especially love how Romney ends his statements with “my friend”). And it could be some combination. In any event, I think it’s fascinating how the quote is being read and (I think) misread. Or at least, plans are being made for strategic misreadings.

*Among whom I generally count myself.

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1 Comment

  1. JeffL

     /  August 13, 2011

    Check this out: http://my.barackobama.com/page/m/55c11b26/6c2e98e7/1105ada28/1189c9a5/101078914/VEsH/

    It was a scorecard sent around by the Obama campaign before the debate. I believe the soundbite included here was for the purpose of misdirection?