For two days, the surprise victory of Ted Cruz was all anybody could talk about. The Tea Party upstart who beat back establishment candidate David Dewhurst for the Texas Senate was the biggest sign yet of the enduring — and growing — political strength of the religious right.
It was the best example until yesterday anyway, when thousands of Americans swarmed Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the country, buying chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and large helpings of spite.
It all started about a week ago, when Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy said the nation was “inviting God’s judgment” by trying to “redefine” marriage as anything but a union between a man and a woman. The restaurant chain famously closes every Sunday and has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay groups, some of which fund controversial therapies that attempt to “free” people of their gayness.
A handful of liberal mayors quickly pounced on Cathy’s remarks, including Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called the food “hate chicken” in a Tweet, and the others made vague, hollow threats about keeping the company out of their cities. This was, of course, stupid.
Their attacks fueled a predictably pointless cycle of over-the-top outrage, with religious conservatives like Tea Party star Mike Huckabee coming to the business’ defense and organizing a “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” to support freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
That was yesterday, one of the most ridiculously ironic moments in recent American political history, when a corporate peddler of factory-farmed chicken became a victim and religious conservatives its heroic saviors.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The coterie of gay marriage-supporting mayors couldn’t have been dumber. Maybe they drummed up some political points with their liberal base, but the biggest effect of their Tweeting idiocy was to give the religious right exactly what they have long sought: evidence that gay marriage has victims.
That’s always been part of this debate. During Chris Krok’s talk show on WBAP 96.7 last night, North Texas residents repeatedly called in to boast about waiting in line for an hour at a local Chick-Fil-A only to buy a gift card because the place was already sold out.
Krok ranted about how gays are “taking away our rights.” It’s never made clear what rights, exactly, are being taken away, but now a couple of liberal mayors pushing for marriage equality gave Tea Party and friends the persecuted martyr they are always looking for.
“I think people underestimate the Christian community,” one Chick-Fil-A pilgrim told a Star-Telegram reporter. “We stand together better than people think.”
Actually, no. Anyone who underestimates Christian activism doesn’t last long in American politics. It’s the underlying currents of self-victimization that make the religious right such a powerful voting block. They are always the underdogs in a righteous battle, even when they are clearly the majority.
To be fair, several local callers on WBAP also expressed support for the small group of gay activists who protested the company. One caller said a lesbian couple walked through the crowd to make their own purchases at Chick-Fil-A while wearing t-shirts defending freedom of speech.
“I respect that,” he said.
All in all, the mayors got exactly what they deserved for such senseless provocation. It’s impossible to argue with what these chicken-toting activists were defending, though one wonders how many of these same people boycotted the Dixie Chicks for speaking out against the Iraq War in 2003.
Yesterday was the kind of sprawling, useless spectacle that now constitutes political debate in this country. Everyone protesting and no one listening. Let’s be honest, there was nothing at stake here. Those mayors were never going to forcibly close down a Chick-Fil-A. It was cheap grandstanding. And whatever the Fox News heads say, a bunch of people showing up to buy chicken sandwiches isn’t exactly a referendum on gay marriage.
Inevitably, people fight for freedom of speech only when they support the message being censored. The more simple and ineffectual the protest, the more it appeals to a public exhausted by jug-headed, polarizing debates. Our government is gridlocked, what else are we supposed to do?
Chick-Fil-A isn’t complaining. The location at Montgomery Plaza usually makes about $12,000 on a normal Wednesday. The restaurant pulled in $20,000 yesterday, a supervisor said this morning. Corporate managers are already calling it the company’s best-ever sales day. Jealous competitors like Wendy’s are putting up signs that they “Stand With Chick-Fil-A.”
It turns out this debate has a winner after all.