So here’s an interesting question: “Do we really want our political lives and our commercial lives to be so wholly intermeshed?”  It turns out that some do and some don’t. 

Here’s an answer that is closer to what it looks like where the boots are on the ground: “I don’t want our civic lives to be in constant turmoil, but it is only right that I retaliate as best I can against a firm that opposes my interests.”  That’s an answer both ugly and common, so let’s think about it a little.

The question comes from Jonathan Merritt, son of the former Southern Baptist Convention president, James Merritt.  Here is a small collection of answers.  I will prefix the answer to the question before the quote.  Gov. Thomas Menino of Boston, “(Yes) I urge you [Chick-fil-A] to back out of your plans to locate in Boston.”  Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, “(Yes) Closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco is 40 miles away and I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”  The Reverend Billy Graham, “(Yes) As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A on August 1.”[1]

Not much of a collection, is it?  Everyone seems to want to preserve the right to retaliate.  I’d like to put this non-debate in context.  The answer I provided above—it is only right that I retaliate as best I can—is a common answer, but I don’t think it is a good answer.  For one thing, no one thinks the level of public incivility we are experiencing is a good idea.  People do think, however, that the other side is doing it and so we have to do it too.  The effect on the present issue is what we focus on; the effect on the way we discuss politics in this country (the growing incivility) is in the background.  It is always in the background.  That is why we do what we do with our eyes on the present issue only.[2]

So my first point is that we are choosing “constant turmoil,” as I said above, without even noticing that it is not what we want.  Second, I would like to point out, as a liberal, that conservatives are always going to win an argument about morals.  There are more conservatives and moral issues are more highly salient, and they define morality as the good, itself, rather than as “freedom to choose,” which is the liberals’ notion of “morals.”

Dan Cathy, whose family owns Chick-fil-A, says he endorses “the biblical definition of the family unit.”  We could quibble, of course, about whether there is a biblical definition of the family unit and in what part of the Bible it might be found, but that’s not where I want to go.  I want to ask what the liberal definition of the family unit is and why it is good.  The answer, I think, is that we don’t have one and we don’t argue that it is good.  What we want to protect is freedom of choice—especially, in the present context, for gays and lesbians—and we think the question of whether it is “good” is beside the point once the “right to choose” has been granted.[3]  So my point, again, is that if the argument is about morals, the conservatives will win it.  For liberals to win it, it has to be about freedom of choice.

Third, this is not a freedom of speech case. It is not about Chik-fil-A’s notoriously bad spelling, as in the famous ad.  Chik-fil-A is not preaching about conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage; they are actively funding events and organizations that have the twin goals of making abortion unavailable and gay marriage illegal.  I think it would be a lot more direct to oppose each and every use of Chik-fil-A’s money for those purposes than to retaliate against the company.  Donating money to make abortions unavailable to women who want them, or whose doctors advise them, can reasonably be characterized as a restriction of freedom of choice.  Liberals are going to win a freedom of choice argument, provided it is about morals, say, rather than pollution.  When liberals go after the conservative companies like Chik-fil-A, they are shifting the argument back to morals, where we will lose.

Finally, there is the slippery slope argument.  I want to boycott Chik-fil-A because I don’t like what they do with their profits.  Fine.  Do you know what your life insurance company does with its profits?  Your dry cleaners?  Your running shoe manufacturer.  Do any of those guys pollute?  Pay their workers too little?  Maintain bank accounts in the Caymans?

That’s the slippery slope.  It is one thing to oppose a prominently political company like Chik-fil-A, but how do you draw the line so you don’t have to know just what the carbon footprint is, for instance, of anything your buy or the political investments of any firm you patronize.  I don’t know those things myself and I don’t want to have to learn them.  If Chik-fil-A makes a really good chicken sandwich and if I really like chicken sandwiches, then I have no problem at all about going there to get one.  If you have a problem with it, there are some questions about the products you buy and the firms you patronize that we are going to have to get into.

I know you don’t want that.

[1] The Reverend Doctor Graham has allowed his publicity machine to use an ambiguous pronoun.  That happens sometimes.  Did his father, the dairy farmer, milk a lot of cows?  Did he, the son of the dairy farmer, milk a lot of cows?  Both, probably, but you can’t tell from the statement.

[2] It is impossible in politics, as much as in ecology, to swoop in and change one thing, leaving everything else the same.  You kill a noxious pest—this is not a partisan reference—and you kill whatever ordinarily eats that noxious pest.

[3] Following the same logic, gun enthusiasts think gun-related homicides are beside the point once the right to own, carry, and use guns has been established.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
This entry was posted in Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.