Political chicken

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 97 views 

It’s difficult to imagine anything driving a permanent stake between fans and the Arkansas Razorbacks. That’s our team, in all sports, during good times and bad. There’s just too much share history for it to be otherwise.

But what if one day The City Wire reported that the Razorback Foundation donates a notable share of its profits to the Republican National Committee? Or what if a news story said most Razorback student-athletes are huge fans of President Obama, and are of the opinion that most the conservatives trying to lead this nation are out-of-touch twits. Would you still be just as likely to root for the Hogs?

Or pick any business, large or small, be they a corporate behemoth like Wal-Mart or a favorite small-time local restaurant. Would learning about ownership’s personal, private politics affect your visiting habits to any great extent? Should it?

This line of questioning comes in the aftermath of Chick-fil-A’s unfortunate decision to jump into the culture wars. In mid-July Dan Cathy, president and COO of the extra popular food chain, did more than suggest during a radio interview that legalizing same-sex marriage is bad business. He spoke of such efforts “inviting God’s judgment on the nation” and praying for “God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

Cathy was also recently quoted as saying that Chick-fil-A is “very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.”

That Chick-fil-A is a corporately conservative company isn’t breaking news. The chicken sandwich experts are famous for closing on Sundays, presumably so employees and customers alike can focus on what really matters, like faith and family. As the Huffington Post recently pointed out, less well known is that the fast-food chain donated approximately $2 million to groups that oppose same-sex marriage in 2010, and a similar amount the year before that.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is pushing shoppers to frequent Chick-fil-A’s across the country on Aug. 1 to show their appreciation for Cathy’s traditional family values stance. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino were among those to quickly take forceful stands against the company’s expansion in their towns.

Fallout in the eyes of gay-rights organizations and celebrities has been fast and furious, and on July 19 Chick-fil-A posted on its Facebook page that “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Translation? We happily support inequality when it comes to the right to marry the person you love in the United States – but we support making billions in profits annually even more.

It is important to pause and consider the proper ethics of the situation. Ownership of any private company has every right to express their viewpoint on a given public policy issue. Consumers have every right to respond by frequenting an outfit like Chick-fil-A more often or choosing to stay away for good.

Whether corporate America has the right to speak out, however, doesn’t mean they ought to. Cathy showed poor leadership – at least, if his central hope is to make the most profits possible – by essentially communicating to every liberal-leaning customer that they are a hypocrite of the first degree if they continue frequenting his stores. After all, ownership has said Chick-fil-A supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.” That means they don’t support, and really don’t care much for, anyone who disagrees or feels otherwise.

Do most customers really want to know up front that financially supporting Chick-fil-A means they are, in a roundabout way, donating to conservative causes? I doubt it. The privately owned company is long since on the record about its strong religious views, and if anything Chick-fil-A is more popular now than ever. Either customers are able to check their personal disagreements with ownership at the door – or they just don’t care enough about the Cathy family’s political beliefs to never shop there again.

Personally, I don’t want to live in a nation where all the Democrats eat and shop and live in one place and all the Republicans eat and shop and live someplace else. The sick politics of Washington – where fraternizing with the other side is a form of compromise or weakness – have spread far enough. America needn’t reach the point where specific sports teams, restaurants and the like become the domain of a particular political persuasion.

The same goes where Chick-fil-A is concerned. Disagreeing as I do with Mr. Cathy’s opinions on gay marriage, I am tempted to write a lengthy piece about how I don’t support discrimination and am never frequenting a business that does ever again. And yet, that’s just a grown-up version of the kid who picks up his toys and goes home. Cutting off the conversation, severing ties, and going separate ways doesn’t really solve the problem. In a way it makes it even worse.

Liberals shouldn’t use this opportunity to denounce Chick-fil-A, its ownership, or all those patrons who happen to agree with Cathy’s traditional family stance. It should inspire civil, constructive conversations about other topics on which these differing sides not only agree but wish to act together. It should inspire liberals not to bash Mr. Cathy for being honest about his views, but rather to strongly support same-sex marriage amendments in their own home states – particularly if so many harsh tweets and Facebook posts are to be believed.

It is the short-sighted who view a single sincere disagreement as an opportunity to end a relationship. In America, it should always be seen as being acceptable to enjoy a Chick-fil-A sandwich on any day of year, particularly when that day is Election Day, and the public feels persuaded to use its voting rights to fight back against a world where “those people” know their rightful place.