Chicken, Sista Souljah, Totalitarianism, Oh My

by Jonah Goldberg

It’s a rare and happy moment when really tasty chicken comes with three complimentary side orders of politics, political philosophy, and Biblical teaching. But that’s what the Chick-fil-A brings to the table (though not on Sundays!).

I am generally appalled by the way the mayors of Boston and Chicago have treated the company which would bring, again, tasty chicken and jobs to their cities. But just because the owner of the company has pretty much the same views on gay marriage Barack Obama had six months ago, Mayors Emanuel and Menino say the chain restaurant is unwelcome in their city. The chain doesn’t discriminate in hiring or in who it serves. The only crime here falls under the category of thought crime. In the past I’ve described this sort of thing as the liberal gleichschaltung, because it’s a form of soft totalitarianism. You’re free to participate in the American system, free to say whatever you believe, do whatever you want, just so long as you agree entirely with liberals on everything. There are no safe harbors, no “islands of separateness“ tolerated in this worldview (though, ironically, Emanuel and Menino are carving out little islands of separateness out of their respective soft-totalitarian cities. We can discuss that later perhaps).

But enough philosophy, let’s talk politics. Our buddy Mark Hemingway makes the case that Obama should defend Chick-fil-A in what he describes as an opportunity for a “Sista Souljah moment.” He makes a very strong case, listing numerous ways Obama would reassure voters concerned about Obama’s stance on religious freedom (under Obamacare), his ties to Chicago sleaze, etc.

Ultimately, I’m still skeptical. Obama is sweating his fundraising and the waning enthusiasm of his base. Coming to the defense of a devout-Christian opponent of gay marriage will not help him in most of those quarters, certainly not among young liberals. If memory serves, when Obama “changed his mind” on gay marriage, polling showed that most Americans believed he did it under political pressure not because of anything like conviction. Suddenly pulling a Sista Souljah, I’d bet, would be seen through a similar prism.

More fundamentally, Mark’s argument begs the question a bit. I’m not sure Obama can have a Sista Souljah moment at this point. Remember: Bill Clinton attacked Sista Souljah when he was still introducing himself to voters. Clinton was trying to telegraph he was a “different kind of Democrat.” That made it possible for Clinton to reach across the aisle substantively from time to time.

Obama’s been president for an eternity already and while he campaigned as someone who was comfortable bridging the ideological divide, his presidency has been entirely different. Arguably he’s been the most over-exposed president in American history. Sista Souljah moments, it seems to me, work (and certainly work best) when voters are trying to figure out who you are. Once voters think they know you, suddenly playing against type doesn’t have the same effect. It makes you seem political and cynical rather than principled.

This, I think, is a big part of Obama’s problem these days. People feel they know who he is. When he did his “you didn’t build that” riff, it confirmed their suspicions. When he now touts business and risk-taking he sounds like he’s saying what he thinks people want to hear, not what he believes. The man has stripped the gears of his own rhetoric.

I agree entirely that it would be good for Obama to defend Chick-fil-A, because that would be the right thing to do and would scare off other thuggish liberals from doing likewise. But I don’t know that it will do Obama much good. You can’t uncook a goose, or in this case, a chicken.

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