One of the worrying things about modern America is just how politicised daily life has become. The clothes you wear, the church you attend, the things you eat – in the paradigm of the culture war, everything becomes a statement about political values. A guy who drives an electric car, enjoys a nut roast and has a high opinion of the Dalai Lama probably votes Democrat. A fellow who hunts moose and has the Virgin Mary tattooed on his right arm probably votes Republican. Now there’s a strange new test of political identity: where you go to eat fast food.
In mid-July, Dan Cathy, the president of fast food chain Chick-fil-A, told an online Baptist journal that his company was “Very much supportive of the family – the Biblical family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family led-business and we are still married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” The statement could just as easily have been a critique of the many-wived Newt Gingrich as it was the gay rights movement, but when the quote hit the national media, the LGBTQ lobby went wild. The Jim Henson Company (of The Muppets Fame) severed an agreement to make children’s toys for meal deals. Nearly 6,000 people signed up online to boycott the chain and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called for a kiss-in at local stores.
These folks are all consumers of one variety or another, so they’re at liberty to withdraw their custom. Rather more worrying was the announcement by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that Chick-fil-A was no longer welcome in his city; he said he would block attempts to open a local store. Not only is Emanuel’s move a gross misuse of his mayoral power that will probably only increase Chick-fil-A sales among the bloody-minded, but it is also hypocritical. Until recently, Emanuel was Chief-of-Staff to a President who was also opposed to gay marriage (Obama’s position only “evolved” towards an endorsement a few weeks ago). Emanuel also okayed the opening of a restaurant by the Nation of Islam, which hates gays almost as much as it hates Jews.
Thanks to the fight back against liberal sanctimony, Chick-fil-A’s sales will not suffer. Mike Huckabee is organising a Chick-fil-A appreciation day and Rick Santorum urged his Facebook fans to visit their local restaurant as soon as possible, writing, “Help us fight for traditional families and eat chicken at the same time.” But the biggest storm has been caused by Sara Palin’s reaction. She posted a picture of her on Facebook tucking into some Chick-fil-A and name dropped the chain during a campaign rally. “Jason, you’re going to have to take me on our way back to the airport later," she said to her aide, Jason Recher. “We drive by a Chick-fil-A. We don’t have that in Alaska. Love me some Chick-fil-A. So we’ll go there, Jason, on the way, OK?” Palin is lucky that the Left chose a blander brand of fast food to pick on. If they'd gone after Chipotle, she might have regretted her bravado (sorry, but that stuff does not sit well with a five hour flight to Anchorage).
All this sound and fury about a little takeaway chicken proves that culture will matter in the 2012 election. Yes the economy is bad and, yes, it comes first in voters’ minds. But the monthly routine of disappointing jobs figures doesn’t make for nearly as good copy as the combination of fast food chicken and gay sex. The culture war is great at inventing bogeymen, creating a narrative of conflict, winding up both sides and letting them at each other. It has visuals and character; it excites the palate. And so long as there are folks on either side of the debate prepared to overreact as Emanuel and Huckabee have done, it will continue to make headlines.
The Chick-fil-A story confirms certain long term and scary tendencies on Left and Right. Among cultural conservatives, there is growing paranoia that they are being driven out of the public sphere. Although the anxiety is often misplaced (the traditional family will survive a sparsely-attended kiss-in at a chicken restaurant) it is validated by the growing authoritarianism of the Left. Someone should explain to Rahm Emanuel that gay rights was supposed to be about guaranteeing privacy, abolishing legal discrimination and defending the dignity of the individual against the prejudice of the mob. It wasn’t supposed to be about creating a new standard of acceptable opinion and enforcing it with the muscle of the state. Liberalism without a profound respect for difference is just fascism by another name.
There are so many issues facing our American brothers and sisters that have a 'real' impact on everyday life as they approach this falls election, that this just seems to be tad ridiculous! The U.S. and all its citizens face economic uncertainty, crumbling world respect, challenges to its very Constitution as a result of the Obama administrations desire to try to be all things to all people, that an argument over a family run business that caters to families but also any other person regardless of sexual orientation, colour or religion just seems so far out in left field! People on both sides of this human condition have to start looking at the big picture if there is any hope for the U.S. to regain its once powerful position as a true world leader. Get over it folks, it's a fast food restaurant, aim your wrath at the U.N. which seeks to do away with the 2nd amendment, or wants to make having a stated position on Islam an offense punishable by law. Get p.o.ed at the big banks that took your taxes to get bailed out of their own mismanagement but now won't help returning vets in similar positions; aim at the lawlessness of incidents like Aurora where the gunman didn't give a rats pajamas about who he shot; aim at policy makers who spend your taxes like drunken sailors then what you to pony up even more regardless of all of the above! Get over yourselves!