In certain circles of political opinion, that hallowed American institution, Coca-Cola, has become the Cause that Refreshes.
From the left and from the right, on the zealous margins of the political spectrum, the company and its soft drink are under attack, the subject of broad charges and dark insinuations.
"Rocky's Money Goes Better With Coke," proclaims the Liberty Lobby's weekly newspaper, Spotlight, connecting Coca-Cola with the "international conspiracy" of bankers - Bilderbergers-Trilateralists-Rockerfeller agents.
"From Cocaine to Coke," reports the left-wing U.S. Labor Party's executive intelligence review, linking Coca-Cola with international traffic in the drug extracted from the coca leaves.
In Atlanta, where Coca-Cola has its corporate headquarters, the company's managers are largely un-alarmed by these assaults. It is the price, perhaps of popularity.
"Being so word-famous, being so large, it makes you vulnerable to being held up as a symbol for various things," said John White, a Coke spokesman. "People think of you, so they automatically point at us for whatever reason."
The current interest in Coca-Cola is undoubtedly heightened by its mainly close ties to the Carter administration. Carter's close friend and occasional adviser is Coca-Cola Board Chairman J. Paul Austin.His Attorney General and his Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare both come from law firms which represent the company. Carter's deputy secretary of defense, Charles Duncan, is a former president of Coke.
"What they forget," said White, "is that Lucian Smith, our president, backed Ford. It was a personal thing, not a company thing, but they never mention that."
When the Senate Armed Services Committe permitted Duncan to retain his Coke stock in a blind trust, estimated at $13 million, Liberty Lobby delved into Coke contracts with the Pentagon and discovered that the company not only sells a lot of soft drinks at the PX but also sells the military frozen orange juice, water heaters, industrial boilers, steam condensers and other items manufactured by various subsidiaries.
Both the Liberty Lobby and the U.S. Labor Party, among others, have alleged, more provocatively, that Coca-Cola is tied to international traffic in cocaine - cocaine extracted from the cocoa leaves imported from South America to provide flavoring for the soft drink.
These insinuations gather a little more strength from the fact that, way back in the early days before federal drug legislation, Coca-Cola did contain traces of cocaine. The company still keeps its famous secret formula secret, but it asserts that Coca-Cola has no cocaine in it - and hasn't had any for at least 70 years.
But Liberty Lobby editior James P. Tucker Jr. asks this question:
"Presuming we could take Coke's word for it, what in hell do they do with the two tons of cocaine that is extracted? Do you pour it on the ground or sell it or what?"
Another Whiff of intrigue is added because the Stepan Chemical Co. of Northfield, III., whose subsidary imports the coca leaves and extracts that flavoring for Coca-cola, declines to answer those questions, claiming the usual confidentiality of a commercial enterprise. Vice President William Meier says only illegal cocaine anywhere.
But the federal government's Drug Enforcement Administration is not so secretive - and it attests that neither Coca-Cola nor Stepan is playing games in the coke trade.
The Maywood, N.J., devision of Stepan does import more than a million pounds of coca leaves from several Latin American countries every year, according to DEA, but under strict federal supervision.
"We regulate the amount they can import by establishing quotas," said Louis Fisher, a pharmacist with DEA. "Once the leaves come in, they have to be stored by federal regulations. This company has a building which is literally a vault where the coca leaves are kept."
The Maywood plant, the only legally licensed importer of coca leaves in the country, is primarily interested in producing the flavor extract it sells to Coca-Cola, not in the cocaine derivative which comes from "de-cocainizing" those leaves, according to Fisher.
"But once they're made cocaine by extracting it, why throw it down the tubes?" Fisher said. "One guy at the company said to me, 'Cocaine pays the light bills every year.'"
The refined cocaine is marketed for its limited medicinal uses, again under federal control and quotas. The Food and Drug Administration makes an estimate of how much cocaine cna be legitimately marketed, and DEA enforces that quota on the company. This year it is authorized to produce 1,249 kilograms - which is a lot of white stuff, 2,754 pounds.
Cocaine is usually used as a spot anesthetic for eye, ear, nose and throat operations where a doctor wants to apply just a touch of pain killer to a very small area. The 1,200 kilos is not when you consider that every pharmacist and hospital in the nation will keep at least a small inventory.
The bulk of it, however, is sold overseas under license. Fisher said, for legal pharmaceutical uses in England, France and other countries.
"All this is accountable," he said. "We do monitor it very carefully all along the line."
The excess production of cocaine is destroyed, he added. DEA doesn't like to specify the means, but presumably the water-soluble drug is flushed away somewhere. Meanwhile, DEA's scrutiny of the extration process is intended to guarantee that no traces of cocaine wind up in the soft drink known as Coke.
Coca-Cola, in fact, has been over this argument many times in the last three generations. Its purity has been upheld by no less a jurist than Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
When an Atlanta druggist named John Styth Pemberton first concocted this beverage in 1886, the flavor was a secret blend from coca leaves and the kola nut (thus, the hyphenated name) which did contain "minute traces of cocaine," according to the company. The cocaine residue was eliminated before the Food and Drug Act of 1906 was enacted, according to White.
This corporate claim was upheld later in trademark litigation which reached the Supreme Court. A competitor appeared calling itself Koke Co. of America. Coca-Cola sued for trademark infringement and won at the District Court level. But an appellate court ruled that, since Coca-Cola no longer contained any cocaine, the name was fraudulent and, therefore, not protected by the copyright law.
In 1920, the Supreme Court upheld Coke. Justice Holmes declared that Coca-Cola is Cola-Cola: "The drink characterizes the name as much as the name the drink."
"Long before this suit was brought," Holmes added, "it [cocaine] was eliminated from the plaintiff's compound. Coca leaves still are used to be sure, but after they have been subject to a drastic process that removes every characteristic substance except a little tannin and chlorophyll."
The cocaine connection aside, what the left and right critics really object to is Coca-Cola's multinational reach and its close association with all of the other components of the foreign policy establishment, from the Rand Corp. to Chase Manhattan Bank.
The Atlanta headquarters is not losing any carbonation over this.
"We were targets of the Communist bloc nations back in the Cold War days of the '50s and '60s," White observed. "They used to refer to U.S. imperialism as Coca-colonization."
Now the company is selling Cokes to the Commies in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, among other places. This may have something to do with why it is under attack from other quarters.