Did you know that Colonel Sanders, the iconic fast food magnate who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken, helped bankroll the third-party presidential campaign of notorious segregationist George Wallace?
Of course, this was hardly well-known during the 1968 election, when it mattered most. Sure, a trio of British reporters later chronicled Sanders's contributions in their classic book "An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968." He was listed there among the "few rich men who contributed to the Wallace campaign on a generous scale," one who appeared on the Alabama governor's vice presidential short list and was even "suspected by dyspeptic reporters of having supplied the interminable fried chicken on Wallace campaign planes." Nevertheless, because the media never made a point of disseminating this information to the general public, the KFC brand name remained - and remains - unsullied by its owner's reactionary predilections.
As the Chick-Fil-A controversy makes clear, things have changed quite a bit over the past 44years. After President Dan Cathy commented that he runs his company according to the "biblical definition of the family unit" and opposes legalizing gay marriage because it "invit[es] God’s judgment on our nation," an outcry erupted from liberals, gay rights groups, and other humanitarians that would have been unimaginable during the 60s. This, naturally, has provoked a backlash from right-wingers who sympathize with Cathy's views. Most recent among them were Sarah Palin's recent comments during a Fox News interview after she was asked about the growing Chick-Fil-A boycott:
"That calling for the boycott is a real -- has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights. And the owner of the Chick-Fil-A business had merely voiced his personal opinion about supporting traditional definition of marriage, one boy, one girl, falling in love, getting married."
While sussing out the fallacies in a Palin argument is a bit too easy - one could even argue that it violates the old adage about not engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed person - the erstwhile vice presidential candidate does have a knack for channeling the thoughts and moods of the hard-line right-wingers, among whom she continues to have considerable influence. As such, it is important to make sure that even positions as logically and morally flawed as those espoused by Palin do not go unaddressed. Hence, here are the top three problems with Sarah Palin's opposition to the Chick-Fil-A Boycott:
1. Palin misunderstands what the First Amendment says about freedom of speech.
Here, in its entirety, is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
While the First Amendment rightly prohibits Congress (and by extension the federal government) from "abridging the freedom of speech," it says nothing about how regular individuals choose to react to political and social views they find objectionable. Just as Dan Cathy is constitutionally protected in his right to oppose gay marriage, so too are his fellow citizens constitutionally protected in their right to express disagreement with his position by circulating petitions, penning editorials (like this one), and refusing to purchase his product en masse. When Palin protests these things, she is betraying not so much a love of the Constitution, as a bitterness toward people who don't share Cathy's views on gay rights. That isn't patriotic, it's whiny.
2. Palin misunderstands what the First Amendment says about freedom of religion.
As those who read Cathy's controversial statement may have noticed, it placed a considerable emphasis on religious arguments when explaining why gay marriage should be legally impermissible (a viewpoint with which Palin clearly sympathizes). This, ironically, does violate the spirit of the First Amendment. As Thomas Jefferson once put it, "religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights." While it is perfectly appropriate for public figures to be open about how they've been personally inspired by their faith, it is dangerous for religious opinion to be used as the basis for shaping actual government policies. Not only does this engender discrimination against anyone unlucky enough to have been targeted by a given religious group's prejudices (in this case homosexuals), but it implicitly elevates the religious views being cited to a status of legal superiority over the perspectives of "persons of other faiths, or of no faith." Again, the right of individuals to base their own personal systems of morality on their religious faiths is not being questioned. The line must be drawn, however, when they attempt to use the law as a means of imposing the teachings of those faiths on those who don't share them.
3. Palin's view is anti-capitalist.
One of the greatest things about capitalism is that it provides consumers with a vital economic liberty - i.e., the ability to choose their own products and services instead of having the state make those choices for them. While politicians like Palin may not agree with the consumers who refuse to patronize a fast food chain because of its views on gay rights, there is no denying that that decision - whether made on an individual level or as part of a concerted boycott - is entirely consistent with the liberties to which they are entitled as participants in a free market economic system. Should Palin and those like her decide to boycott businesses that support gay marriage (such as the Jim Henson Company, which has severed all ties between the Muppets and Chick-Fil-A over this issue), this would also be their right. That said, when they simply caterwaul that a company which has expressed a controversial view is being punished by a consumer demographic for their opinion, they reveal themselves as poor disciples of capitalist philosophy.
In the end, the most important parallel between Colonel Sanders and Dan Cathy is that both men found themselves on the wrong side of history. Just as the segregationist views preached by George Wallace have long since been relegated to the ashtray of acceptable political ideas (where they belong), so too will the homophobia promulgated by the likes of Cathy one day be viewed as a relic of a less tolerant time. Until that happens, however, consumers who object to anti-gay bigotry are entirely within their rights to speak out against and boycott Chick-Fil-A products. Indeed, it is the most quintessentially American thing they can do.