Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Papa John's Stance Against Obamacare: Worthy of Praise or Derision?

Ever since President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term last Tuesday, we have been getting all sorts of reactions from those who opposed his candidacy. Whether it is the slew of secession petitions that have flooded official White House websites, or people like Charles Krauthammer and Rush Limbaugh who seem to think that the Republican Party need only tweak one or two things to right their ship, you have seen the gamut run from smug confidence to full blown panic among Obama’s opponents.

More troubling than any of those reactions has been the new fad that is sweeping several prominent American businesses. Companies have been announcing layoffs in recent days, and some have made it a point to blame the President’s administration for the lost jobs. Perhaps no company has gained notoriety for this tactic than pizza chain Papa John’s has in recent weeks.

Earlier this year, the company announced that they would be raising the price of pizza in anticipation of the implementation of requires of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and more recently following the election, they also said that they would be laying off workers and cutting hours in anticipation of the cost involved in providing their employees health care coverage. These announcements were made to quite a bit of derision in most circles, but there is at least one group who thinks that the company is right to be making these types of threats, and is looking to support them.

Rebooting America, an organization that is aimed at recruiting young conservatives, has come up with an idea similar to one that supporters of the restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A used earlier this year to support the company’s opposition to gay marriage. They have decided to hold an event where people will go to Papa John’s restaurants on Friday in a show of solidarity with the company’s opposition to Obamacare, and even Republican celebrities like Christine O’Donnell (who is famous for her failed 2010 Senate run in which she had to take out an ad declaring emphatically that she was not a witch) have jumped on board the bandwagon.

Whether this movement picks up any significant traction remains to be seen (the Facebook group for the organization has 1240 members, but their story has also been picked up by Fox News’ website), but there is one thing that simply has to be said: there really is no justification for glorifying what Papa John’s, Applebee’s, and a slew of other companies are doing by blaming potential layoffs and hours cuts on Obamacare. In fact, these statements should be met with contempt, not applause.

Regardless of whether you agreed or not with Chick-Fil-A’s stance as a company on the issue of gay marriage, the fact of the matter is that they did have a moral high ground on which to stand. The issue of equal rights for gays is one that is still being debated bitterly throughout the country, with most of the opponents of gay marriage and civil unions being evangelical Christians. Like abortion and many other controversial social issues, gay marriage is something that goes against the dogma of most adherents to the faith, and so it isn’t surprising, and frankly shouldn’t be ridiculed as much as it has been, that people would go up in arms over something so incendiary.

In the case of Papa John’s, there is no moral superiority that can be claimed by saying that employees should not be afforded the opportunity to purchase health care coverage. All of our lives we have been told that one of the leading causes of the escalation of health care costs has been the rampant abuse of the nation’s emergency rooms by people with non life-threatening conditions, and then when they skip on the bill, that cost is passed onto us.

People like Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney have ignored that fact of life, and have claimed that emergency rooms are still a viable option for people without health insurance. To counter this trend and to get more people covered by insurance in an effort to reduce costs, President Obama’s bill mandates that any company that employs over 50 workers MUST provide health care coverage to their employees, and as one of the biggest pizza chains in the nation (third behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s), and so obviously Papa John Schnatter’s chain is well above that threshold.

Even after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the law this summer, there is still plenty of opposition to it, and there are justifications for that. The “individual mandate” is still the cause of plenty of consternation, with fines being levied against those who ignore their opportunity to purchase health insurance proving especially troublesome for some liberals and a good deal of conservatives. In an age when wages are still well below their peak levels, it does seem a bit unfair on the surface to be punishing people for not wanting to expend money, and although a compelling counterargument of how it’s better than waiting until you get sick and then going completely broke can be made, it’s still an emotional issue for some voters, and they have every right to still be opposed to the measure.

Even though the Supreme Court has said that corporations have the same right to free speech as individual Americans, that still doesn’t change the fact that what Papa John’s is doing is particularly heinous. According to Forbes Magazine, the new health care law will cost the company between $5 and $8 million a year, which could be covered by adding between 3 and 5 CENTS per pizza that the company sells in a given year. When you put that cost in comparison to the company’s current free pizza giveaway of 2 million pizzas at the cost of about $24-32 million, there really is no way to sugarcoat that information.

Papa John’s has in no way endorsed the idea of having a day supporting their opposition to Obamacare, but they still maintain a certain degree of accountability here. You have people who are going to the restaurant with the express purpose of voicing their opposition to the measure, but all they are actually doing is putting more money into the coffers of a company that is making it a point to screw over their workers as a way of making a political statement. Much like all of the companies prior to the election that sent out emails to their employees telling them that there would be serious consequences if they voted for President Obama, John Schnatter’s pizza chain is preying upon fear and political vitriol for their own capitalist gains, and there is nothing admirable about that.

Citizens would be better served spending their money at local restaurants and pizza chains on Friday, because it is places like that who are actually going to help the United States continue to extricate itself from the hideous recession we have found ourselves in thanks to the idiotic greed of people like John Schnatter. Giving money to a bunch of selfish jackasses like the crew that runs Papa John’s is doing nothing but lining their pockets and enabling them to screw over their workforce, and there frankly isn’t anything less American than giving to the rich and saying to hell with the poor. You can be opposed to Obamacare all you want, but this is a really terrible way of expressing that opposition.

There is nothing moral about denying people the right to health insurance. It is pretty certain that if Jesus Christ was still walking the Earth, he would be appalled at a business owner cutting employees’ hours so that they wouldn’t be eligible to enroll in something that could save them from bankruptcy in the case of a horrendous illness. Papa John doesn’t really care about any of that religious talk, however. The only thing that speaks to him and his company is the sound of a cash register ping, and if you go to his restaurant on Friday with the intention of expressing your opposition to Obamacare, all you’ll be doing is playing music to his ears and supporting his exploitation of his workers, and there is nothing ethical about that.

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