Anti-business GOP: Missouri AG’s attack on Target Pride is big government at its worst | Opinion

The job of Missouri attorney general has many legal responsibilities. Until recently, though, we didn’t realize those duties include supervising the inventory and marketing at big box retail stores like Target to make sure they conform to right-wing sensibilities.

Now we know.

That’s thanks to Andrew Bailey, the current Missouri AG, who last week signed onto a letter with six other Republican attorneys general, ominously suggesting the retailer might have run afoul of child protection laws this summer because it sold “LGBT-themed onesies, bibs, and overalls” as well as “swimsuits with ‘tuck-friendly construction’” as part of a Pride month campaign in June.

“As the chief legal officers of our States, we are charged with enforcing state laws protecting children and safeguarding parental rights,” wrote the attorneys, also from Indiana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina. “State child-protection laws penalize the ‘sale or distribution … of obscene matter.’” They also noted that some states “have passed laws to protect children from harmful content meant to sexualize them and prohibit gender transitions of children.”

But Bailey and the other AGs weren’t writing just as law enforcement officials — but as representatives of states that, thanks to their employee pension funds, are shareholders in Target. They criticized the company for supposedly losing sales as part of a national right-wing boycott against the Pride merchandise.

Target, they wrote, shouldn’t risk profits — and damage shareholders — out of a desire “to foist contentious social or political agendas upon families and children at the expense of the company’s hardwon good will and against its best interests.”

Let’s be clear about what’s going on here: Bailey and the other attorneys general are trying to intimidate Target and other companies that might choose to celebrate or even acknowledge LGBT identity.

With their warnings about “child protection laws,” they’re also promoting the right-wing “groomer” smear that falsely suggests that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people seek to victimize children sexually.

And they’re using the power of the state — threatened or otherwise — to carry out this terrible mission. “This playbook of lying about LGBTQ+ people, of depicting us as some kind of danger, is a very old line of attack and it does nothing to move us toward a more just and equal society,” the Human Rights Campaign’s Jay Brown said in a statement provided to CNN.

That’s correct. It’s wrong and despicable that — once again — Bailey is at the forefront of such smears.

We also note that the letter by Bailey and his colleagues marks another milestone in the GOP’s pivot away from its longtime stance as the party of free enterprise and limited government.

Rather than let businesses profit or falter on the strength of what they believe their customers want, Republicans are now entirely happy to strong-arm corporations into catering to their voters’ moral and cultural preferences. See also: Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and his recent work to intimidate Walgreens pharmacies out of selling abortion pills, an entirely legal product.

The old “what’s good for business is good for America” model has many flaws, and was particularly hard on workers. But we suspect it might be preferable to a philosophy that allows government officials to muscle retailers for selling the wrong kinds of T-shirts and onesies — and we doubt workers will see much benefit from the change.

So what’s next? Legally speaking, probably not much.

Rainbow-themed outfits — even if they’re youth-sized — aren’t really “obscene,” even under the broadest legal definition of that term. The Supreme Court has a three-pronged test to determine whether an item meets that definition, including whether a work depicts sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way.” The Target merchandise doesn’t come close. There is still a First Amendment in this country: Even if Bailey or another attorney general tried to bring legal action, the courts (we hope and expect) would make quick work of it.

Legal action was probably not the point. Instead, Bailey and the other GOP attorneys general probably saw an opportunity to capitalize on an issue that fired up the Republican base and acted accordingly.

They’re getting the attention they sought. And LGBT Missourians are poorer for it.