I was in Philadelphia last weekend when, at the behest of an elderly family member in from out of town, I was dispatched to 9th and Passyunk for an authentic Philly cheesesteak. Since she preferred cheesesteaks with the meat sliced in long strips as opposed to those which have it all chopped up, she asked me to go to Geno's Steaks rather than Pat's King of Steaks right across the intersection. I sighed deeply, and not because I thought Pat's sandwiches were better and she was making a mistake.
My issue, which she didn't know about, was with the fact that since 2006, Geno's had been displaying prominent signs outside its ordering window directed at the South Philadelphia neighborhood's Mexican immigrants, signs which read:
"This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please 'SPEAK ENGLISH." (At least the word "please" is in there, right?)
I was living there when this controversy broke out, and I proceeded to consciously avoided Geno's. I hadn't thought to steer clear of it beforehand, even though I don't eat red meat or poultry. Now I did, because I didn't support (or being seen supporting) a business that was openly singling out a segment of its customers for ridicule. That feeling is one I recalled this week as I saw conservatives "come to the defense" of Chick-fil-A.
This all started, of course, because the fast-food chain's CEO, Dan Cathy, said this about those advocating for marriage equality:
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."
Cathy and Chick-fil-A aren't shy about siding with anti-LGBT causes, both with rhetoric and money -- all under the auspices of being a Christian business. The company's official credo displayed behind its counters reads,"To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." That's why Cathy stood behind his remarks, despite the vitriol he elicited from folks like Boston mayor Tom Merino and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who both sought to block the construction of new Chick-fil-A restaurants in their municipalities.
That was a ridiculous reaction by those two, which Mother Jones' Adam Serwer and Kevin Drum both called out. But the matchhead had already been struck, and thus rushed forward the flames of conservative overreaction. Fox News personality and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee felt it the right time to tell people to engorge themselves with Chick-fil-A's fried delicacies.
Chick-fil-A appears to have set a company record in sales on Wednesday, a day on which Americans were encouraged to show their support for the fast-food restaurant whose leadership has drawn both criticism and praise in recent weeks for its opposition to same-sex marriage..."We are very grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers on August 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country," said Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, in the statement. "While we don't release exact sales numbers, we can confirm reports that it was a record-setting day."
Even the openly gay Antoine Dodson of "hide ya kids, hide ya wife" Internet-viral video fame showed up to have lunch at a Chick-fil-A in Alabama, saying, "That's what freedom is. We don't all have to believe in the same things." (He'd also posted a video supporting the business last week.) Dodson is correct, if a bit naive, in saying that. I say naive because it was clear that the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was designed as a political statement. When Republicans like Huckabee, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (see below) use Chick-fil-A bags as signifiers, it means something entirely different.
Granted, they never said explicitly, "We're eating Dan Cathy's fried chicken because we agree with his conviction that gay marriage might very well damn us all," and that might be because the country's opinion on the issue is turning decidedly towards acceptance of marriage equality. The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart cited a Pew poll just this week that gave further indication of that.
Republicans don't have to say exactly what Dan Cathy said in order to endorse his views. Encouraging an "appreciation" day sparked by those views is all that was necessary. They've now been successful in taking comments which some folks may have been willing to forgive, ignore -- or in Dodson's case, accept in the name of freedom of speech -- and branding the business with the Republican seal of approval. That alone will turn off some folks, but worse for the business is the fact that they're now the anti-gay place.
They might welcome that. Judging by Cathy's comments and the manufactured controversy that followed, they probably do welcome it. And yes, they had an awesome day of sales. But as more and more Americans embrace marriage equality, this will be a detriment to Chick-fil-A. Playing the long game hasn't been the strong suit of Republicans when it comes to cultural issues, and this is no different.
Oh, by the way: the signs at the Geno's windows were still up when I got there last weekend, along with another which read, "Dial 1 for English, Dial 2 for Deportation." And for what it's worth, the line at Pat's was a hell of a lot longer than the one at Geno's.
View Congresswoman Bachmann's message of support below.