Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coca Cola CEO Suggests President Obama is a Communist if He Taxes Soda

With a growing movement to get Americans to eat more healthfully, are those who create bad foodstuffs suddenly feeling as desperate as Tea Baggers? Check the rhetoric...
UPDATE, 1/2011:  President invites COKE CEO to State Dinner for China 
Taxing soda and sugary beverages as a way of reducing their use has long been regarded as one of the public policy tools that's useful to combat obesity and other chronic diet-related diseases.  But a soda tax is getting lots of pushback now that the federal government is considering it as an option. President Obama endorses the idea, and in his new cover-story interview in Men's Health magazine, he goes on the record:

"I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring," President Obama said. "There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else..."

The President has expressed concern about soda and sugary beverages like juice boxes before, as has First Lady Michelle Obama. But now, Coca-Cola chair and CEO Muhtar Kent has had enough. He's long been opposed to a soda tax, and he hit back hard yesterday when asked for an opinion on the President's soda-tax comments:

“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,’’ Kent said. “If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around." Kent also called the soda tax "outrageous."

A soda tax implies that the product is approaching the level of cigarettes in terms of negative health outcomes. That requires an emotional appeal to the masses...
Why has Kent adopted the volatile Tea Party rhetoric of accusing the President of being a Communist? Wouldn't it be far more savvy to discuss the issue from a policy perspective, and to note the cons of prohibitive taxation, rather than suggest that the President--and concerned members of Congress--are Communists? Nope. The Tea Parties have normalized volatile public discourse, and made appeals to emotion rather than reason a standard operating procedure. Suggesting that President Obama is a Communist, Hitler, or the Anti-Christ is perfectly fine these days, as is saying he's a liar. The t-shirt, above, reads "Shut up and drink the Kool Aid" with a Scythe and Sickle from the Soviet flag, and was everywhere at Saturday's Tea Party rally in DC, as were images of the President as Che Guevara, Stalin, etc....

With a President and First Lady who are now regularly going on the record that Americans need to seriously re-consider their food choices, and the USDA's new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign for healthier local foods, of course the sugary beverage industry has launched a vigorous assault against anything that's going to impact profits--and these days, emotional appeals are much better than reason and fact. And soda tax could impact profits, if citizens stop spending their food dollars on something that's perceived as so bad it needs a special sin tax slapped on it. The ad, above, was in the A section of the Washington Post on Sunday, part of a new campaign that lobby group Americans Against Food Taxes is running to fight taxation of soda and sugary beverages, although the plea is "don't tax our groceries."

 Coca Cola funds the group, as does Pepsi Cola, Dr. Pepper, Canada Dry, McDonald's, Jack in the Box, among others.  The name of the group is entirely misleading, because they're not worried about healthy food; they're worried about soda, the first thing that is a no-brainer for taxation.

The group is warning that it's "a slippery slope once government reaches into the grocery cart with new food taxes," and they're phrasing the idea of a soda tax as an assault on "hard working American families" who have limited resources due to government mismanagement of the economy. That's Tea Party rhetoric, too. CEO Kent has referred to soda as "a staple food" for the American diet, which is exactly why a soda tax is required, until Americans know better. It's going to take big efforts by corporate food giants--like soda companies--to help return America's relationship to food to a place of more balance. Huge food companies aren't going away any time soon; what's needed is responsibility.

It should be noted that with such major corporations opposing a soda tax, it may well never happen. Check out the photo at left: That's Coke CEO Kent, the fellow calling the President a Commie, peeking over the shoulder of former President Bill Clinton, in May, during a meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative, the ex-prez's service organization. Kent is working with Clinton to achieve "policy goals." And Pepsi Co. global chair Indra K. Nooyi is tight with the Obama Administration, too. Both Coke and Pepsi, in an interesting version of Bipartisanship, were served at the White House Independence Day Barbecue, according to the official White House menu.

Interestingly, Time magazine, in an excellent bit of anecdotal science reportage, finds that Diet Coke is the overwhelming choice of Obama staffers. Diet Coke is devoid of sugar, at least. And who can forget that right after the Inauguration, Pepsi Co. received tons of attention for changing their logo to be pretty exact to the Obama campaign logo? The soda industry is nothing if not politically savvy...

Update: And speaking of corporate power, Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO, was just named to Fortune 500's 50 Most Powerful Women List.

*Image at top of post created by Doobybrain, in response to the news that the Obama White House prefers Coke.