IF YOU ARE an emblem of American harmony like Coca-Cola, you play your politics carefully, especially on issues as divisive as race and voting. The soft-drinks company did so brilliantly in 1964 when the elite of Atlanta—home to both Coca-Cola and Martin Luther King—threatened to snub the civil-rights leader on his return from winning the Nobel peace prize. Appalled at the potential embarrassment, Coca-Cola’s current and former executives worked quietly behind the scenes to persuade other industrialists to attend a dinner in King’s honour. They even sang “We Shall Overcome”.
Coca-Cola has weighed in this year, too, before and after Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, signed a new law on March 31st that critics said would suppress black voters. The firm’s discreet efforts to soften aspects of the bill before its passage backfired twice over. First, civil-rights groups accused it of pusillanimity. When its boss, James Quincey, subsequently joined other Atlanta natives such as Delta Air Lines in expressing disappointment at the outcome, Republicans branded Coke and the others “woke” hypocrites.
On April 14th hundreds of companies, including giants like Amazon and Google, and big-name businesspeople, among them Warren Buffett, published a letter opposing “any discriminatory legislation” making it harder to vote…