Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Bagley: My Chick-fil-A cartoon was inspired by a fellow cartoonist who is rabidly conservative and has been posting pictures of himself eating Chick-fil-A sandwiches on Facebook. That’s him on the far right. He’s expressing support for Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, who sees God’s judgments raining down on this nation because of the decline of “Biblical” marriage and the growing support for gay marriage. Everyone has piled on. The LGBT community called for a boycott. Conservative commentator Mike Huckabee was behind a wildly successful Chick-fil-A Day where people could express their religious devotion and support the First Amendment by eating fast food. The LGBT community hit back with a same-sex “kiss-in” at “Chick” franchises. The mayors of Chicago and Boston told Chick-fil-A to not even bother setting up in their gay-friendly burgs.
Personally, I find the whole thing silly and a little disheartening. Even the fast food we choose to eat is now political.
Lambson: I suppose civil discourse is too much to hope for. I understand being passionate about an issue. I even understand being angry about an issue. I don’t understand the practice of demonizing political opponents, unless it is a cynical strategy for political gain, in which case it is even worse.
Bagley: It’s an existential struggle between good and evil, don’t you know. Cultural conservatives are chomping chicken in defense of America, marriage and the First Amendment, which is threatened by America-hating, Islamo-atheist-socialist sodomites who have decided to eschew intolerant, bigoted, fascist poultry. Whatever. It’s a free country.
A letter to The Salt Lake Tribune makes a distinction between boycotts and bans. Boycotts are built on a personal choice to forgo a product or service. On the other hand, banning something means removing the right to use a product or service. So eet mor chikin, or not, as you feel inclined, but don’t prohibit chicken. By this measure, the mayors of Chicago and Boston crossed a line by forbidding this particular fast food franchise from setting up shop.
Lambson: There is another difference. Boycotts are ineffective.
Bagley: This one has been particularly effective in showing how divided we are. A Spanish poet in the 1930s knew his country was on the road to self-destruction when he saw a beautiful woman get off a bus and the bus driver give her a look of pure hatred. In normal times it would have been an appreciative glance, but the driver and woman were of different political parties and the discourse between right and left in pre-civil war Spain had turned toxic. The bus driver didn’t see a beautiful woman; he saw a despised enemy. When politics trumps sex, you know you’ve got problems.
Lambson: We should be able to cling to at least a short list of shared values that allows for and indeed encourages civil discourse. Ideologues on all sides tend to see political struggle as an existential struggle between good and evil. That might be okay, except when they become willing to do evil for what they perceive to be a good cause. Whenever a mob shouts down a speaker on a college campus, for example, I am (as you say) disheartened. By contrast, I have always enjoyed our spirited but civil conversations. Let’s have lunch. You can choose the restaurant.
The Top Comment from last week is by xcalifornian: “[We] cannot deny the rights to honest law abiding citizens because a few abuse those rights. But once that right is abused — those responsible must suffer swift and sure punishment.”