Hey, let’s check in on the anti-wokeness wars! We’re now hearing Sen. Marco Rubio rage at corporations for “bending the knee to woke progressive craziness,” while suggesting they should be fined as “polluters” for dumping “toxic nonsense” into our culture.

And Sen. Josh Hawley is shamelessly suggesting that buying his book about the Big Tech oligarchy will constitute a brave act of protest against an alliance of “the corporate media and the woke mob.”

It’s too bad these Republican senators from Florida and Missouri have announced they won’t attend President Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.

If they did, they’d hear Biden discussing new proposals that would really stick it to those woke corporations, with various tax hikes on them and their woke executives and shareholders, and efforts to curb a range of tax-avoidance gimmickry long beloved by woke elites.

Biden is set to propose $1.8 trillion in new investments on children and families. This will include big expenditures on pre-K, paid family and medical leave, an extended child tax credit allowance and expanded access to college.

Biden will call for offsetting this with tax hikes on earners in the top income bracket and on capital gains for people making more than $1 million, and funding to beef up Internal Revenue Service collection of taxes dodged by corporations and the wealthy.

Biden will also discuss proposals to fund job creation and infrastructure with higher tax rates on corporations. That includes an effort to rein in tax avoidance by multinationals with tax laws retooled to better target profits shielded abroad.

When we hear all this, what will these preening populist scourges of woke globalist corporatism have to say about it?

Taking Rubio seriously

Rubio’s new piece attacking woke corporations is attracting mockery for arguing that corporations dump “woke, toxic nonsense into our culture” that should face what “any other polluter should expect.”

But let’s take his argument seriously. Because the juxtaposition between it and what Democrats want to do represents a very real — and fundamental — difference over the problem outsize corporate power poses in American life today, and what to do about it.

Some of Rubio’s argument is actually reasonable. He makes the familiar case that the post-war years of broadly shared prosperity partly rested on a vanished ethic of corporations recognizing obligations to workers and communities. He says the abandonment of this obligation has hurt communities, workers and families. Fine.

But Rubio falters when he suggests the problem arose when corporations underwent a “culture shift.” They decided they are “citizens of the world” and started attacking what Rubio calls “traditional values,” which has led to a betrayal of “the nation”:

Multinational firms threaten boycotts over pro-life legislation. Cowardly sports leagues pull events out of states that dare pass legislation they don’t like. Firms like Delta parrot woke talking points, even as they cut deals with China, lending Beijing legitimacy and funding as it commits genocide in Xinjiang.

For Rubio, the gateway to critiquing the degradations of corporate power is through attacking the corporate embrace of cosmopolitan cultural liberalism. This leaves Rubio saying little about what should be done about the outsize political and economic power of corporations.

The progressive critique is that corporations and the wealthy have wielded that power over politics to structure market rules on corporate and financial governance, labor relations, intellectual property protection and the tax code. This has weakened worker power, flattened wages, increased corporate rents and distributed income and wealth upward to executives, shareholders and wealthy investors for decades.

Conservative populism falls short

Rubio and Hawley share some of this critique. They agree markets are structured by politics and that better market rules can achieve better social outcomes. In this, they break with modern conservatism’s libertarian-plutocratic streak. That’s the good in their “conservative populism.”

But they don’t take this to the same conclusions progressives do. The Democratic answer to corporations shielding profits offshore and depriving us of revenues to invest in the nation — surely the type of globalist betrayal those senators hate, right? — is to change tax law to rein in that tax avoidance. When we hear this from Biden, what will they say about it?

Rubio and Hawley don’t have much to say about the distributive consequences of concentrated economic power at the top. The Democratic answer: Higher taxes on corporations, top incomes and wealthy investors will capture back some of the outsize rents channeled upward by decades of manipulation of market rules facilitated by that concentrated power. What will Rubio and Hawley have to say about this?

Rubio’s piece makes the scantest reference along these lines, hinting that Republicans might be “more careful in how we structure tax cuts.” Okay, how so? Democrats working on Biden’s tax legislation tell Michelle Goldberg that conservative populist senators have not contacted them to offer any input.

This matters politically. James Carville got lots of attention for telling Vox that wokeness is a huge problem for Democrats. But as Tim Miller suggests, Republicans are vulnerable here, too: Democrats can expose Republicans’ anti-woke populism as the policy sham that it is.

Underscoring the point, on taxes, Rubio’s threat is an empty one, as it’s largely offered as a response to the supposed degradations of corporate cultural power. Even worse, though Rubio carefully elides this point, it’s also a response to corporate criticism of GOP voter suppression efforts.

In short, this attack on the supposed hegemony corporations wield over American life is partly about chilling criticism of Republican efforts to disempower countless voters by limiting their participation in democracy, which is an actual way to counter corporate power.

Indeed, if Democrats can get some of these policies passed, you will have seen just that — democracy slightly rebalancing a terribly skewed economic order back in the right direction. Isn’t that something these populist scourges of corporate tyranny should want to see?

Read more: