Chik-Fil-A: More than a "Conservatism of Attitude"

Carol Platt Liebau

8/2/2012 10:36:11 AM - Carol Platt Liebau
Blogging at the Washington Post, Jonathan Bernstein seems confused about the purpose or the meaning of the massive crowds at Chik-Fil-A yesterday.  He writes:

But, really, isn’t the energy among conservatives over this a little excessive?

I’m trying to understand a conservative movement in which supporting Chick-fil-A is considered a major statement of something. It’s not a conservatism of principles, of ideas, or of policy; it seems to be a conservatism of attitude.  I don’t know; I keep thinking about Freedom Fries, and other great moments in recent conservative activism.

At any rate, this kind of thing doesn’t seem like a sign of movement vitality.

Obviously, Mr. Bernstein doesn't know anyone who patronized a Chik-Fil-A yesterday, and -- kudos to him for it -- openly admits his lack of understanding of what the flap is about.

Just at the outset, let's explain "recent conservative activism" like Chik-Fil-A and "freedom fries."  Unlike, say, those participating in Occupy Wall Street -- that exemplar of coherent ideas and disciplined action -- most of those who eschewed "french fries" for "freedom fries" and ate at Chik-Fil-A yesterday have jobs and other commitments that restrict the time and opportunities available for them to engage in mass protest.  Instead, they use symbolic actions consistent with a productive, responsible life that are meant to express a point of view: In the former case, opposition to French duplicity and ingratitude, and in the latter, a variety of clear and related viewpoints set forth below.  So here goes Mr. Bernstein's "anthropology" lesson.  Patrons at Chik-Fil-A probably could be classified as part of one of the following groups -- or some combination of them:

First, I would bet that many of those lining up to eat Chik-Fil-A (CFA for short) yesterday were mainstream Christian conservatives.  In accordance with their faith, they simply believe gay marriage transgresses Biblical standards for behavior.   There is no question among most Christians that gays carry the full weight of God's glory, but that belief isn't inconsistent with a religious understanding that they are also sinners (as are we all).  Our society already tolerates (and in some cases even glorifies) all sorts of sin, as every Christian knows; CFA appreciation wasn't about supporting any sort of persecution or mistreatment of gays as that, too, would be in conflict with the teachings of the Christian church.  (What's more, many have dearly-loved gay friends in their lives.) Rather, it was about supporting a fellow Christian who had simply stated a long-held truth of his faith about traditional marriage, and whose company was being both persecuted and mistreated as a result.

Second, I suspect that many of those "appreciating" CFA yesterday held no strong position either for or against gay marriage.  But they are cultural conservatives, who have witnessed with alarm the ugly and enormously destructive effects of many of the other social changes that have been imposed by our self-appointed moral and cultural arbiters.  Perhaps they remember, for example, the elite culture's ridicule of Dan Quayle for simply pointing out that it was wrong for the culture to mock the importance of fathers -- and that 20 years after helping to lead the charge against him, The New York Times recently published an article implicitly admitting that the most vulnerable among us -- poor women and children -- are paying the price for heeding the elite culture's instruction.  Or they note that the "sexual liberation" hailed by cultural elites has now degenerated into a pathetic free-for-all so repellent that ugly incidents -- e.g., second graders attempting oral sex -- are all-too-common.  Or they deplore the steady diet of violence that popular entertainment feeds to our children, often with tragic results.  They are sick of the cultural elite's childish desire "epater le bourgeois" and they resent the monomaniacal focus on "authenticity" that has become a justification for degrading all forms of mass culture, from books to music to movies.

Hence, understandably, many Americans approach this new lefty obsession du jour with a measure of suspicion, justified by the dismal track record of much of the other cultural "moral imperatives" and attitudes previously shoved down our throats.

Finally, I believe (and I hope) that some of the people eating at CFA yesterday actually support gay marriage, and disagree with Dan Cathy's views.  They were, however, so appalled at the spectacle of elected governmental officials (like Rahm Emanuel) seeking to stigmatize and exclude a private enterprise for the personal views of its leader (reflected in no company action or policy) that they decided to take a symbolic action in opposition to the specter of government tyranny.  They are libertarian conservatives -- or perhaps just the lovers of liberty of all political stripes.

As he obviously knows no conservatives, Mr Bernstein is apparently unaware that there has been plenty of "attitude" directed in the past to the kind of cultural bullying that reared its ugly head again in the CFA controversy.  The problem before was that there was no way to channel and organize the sense of outrage and opposition -- as MSM neither lavishes loving coverage on right-of-center reaction to injustice nor respectfully publicize mass protest plans as it does when those on the left carry on about some perceived unfairness.

Given that the internet age has dawned, I daresay Jonathan Bernstein will see plenty more examples of "attitude" now that conservatives have figured out a way to organize themselves without help from the MSM.  But there is plenty of principle to accompany it.  No, we won't be following Occupy Wall Street's example of occupying public property, defecating on police cars and the like.  But no doubt the future holds lots more "freedom fries," Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Days and similar protests-for-the-productive to puzzle and dismay the likes of Jonathan Bernstein.