Hillary Clinton is catching flak from the unions because Mark Penn, her top strategist and pollster, is the CEO of the giant PR firm Burson-Marsteller, which has a lucrative union-busting practice.
Penn, with the sort of scupulous intellectual honesty you’d expect from a professional flack, says that he has used his firm’s “conscience clause” to “recuse himself” from Burson-Marsteller’s union-busting business. What the hell is that supposed to mean?
As the CEO, Penn gets to decide whether the firm stays in the union-busting business or not. If he has a conscientious objection to that activity — which would be reasonable, since union-busting means scheming with employers to deprive workers of an internationally-recognized human right (see Art. 23) — then he ought to close down the union-busting practice, and tell the Burson-Marsteller board they can fire him if they don’t like it. Or, if he thinks that union-busting is wrong but that getting out of that business would do irreparable damage to Burson-Marsteller, Penn could quit and find another outfit to be CEO of.
Or — unthinkably, I suppose — he could even accept a cut in his (no doubt more than ample) income in order to do the right thing. But apparently Penn has his conscience, such as it is, well under control, and doesn’t allow it to interfere with business. And obviously Clinton hasn’t insisted that Penn clean up either his own act or his company’s act.
Either Penn and Clinton don’t really think that union-busting is wrong, or they don’t care enough about the difference between right and wrong to do anything about it. I can’t come up with a third alternative. Can you?