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Hunger Strike

by James Lileks

I don’t mind Arby’s. It’ll do. The last time I ate there I thought, Hey, I’m not regretting this. Some red sauce, some white sauce, a bun that doesn’t taste like it was made three months ago in a vast industrial oven three states away: Might not be actual food, but it’s a fine simulacrum. Some days you’re at the mall, you’re hungry, and it’s a fast-food meat-wad or some grey chicken from the Peking Slop House or whatever it’s called. Yes, I could see having Arby’s again.

At least until they demonstrated to the Internet a heretofore unknown fact: Only liberals eat. On Twitter, home of the unforced error, Arby’s spokestweeter said the brand would yank ads from Rush Limbaugh’s show. Probably thought his fans just ate foie gras washed down with a flagon of orphan’s tears, so it wasn’t a big deal — but on the Internet a swarm of nettles alights on anything controversial, and flenses it to the bone. Peeve the customers who were previously unaware that shaved beef has a specific political agenda and they’ll hit Twitter to say your signature condiment “Horsey Sauce” sounds like something they’d extract from Man o’ War and sell to a stud farm, and the meat itself tastes like some form of liquefied abattoir scrapings held together with binding agents — although, hey, with some Horsey Sauce, it’s not completely inedible.

Next up: Arby’s — which was never a national advertiser on Rush’s show in the first place — shoots itself in the other hoof by blocking the complainers on Twitter. In terms of the greater national debate, it was like a war of two anthills observed from the top of a mountain, but it was a reminder: If your most banal economic decision isn’t political yet, it will be soon. Nothing’s safe.

Perhaps you already have a list of businesses you’ll avoid. Progressive Insurance’s chairman gives millions to and other liberal causes; apparently “Pinko Life and Casualty” was already taken. Oh, just kidding. But you’re glad the Geico gecko hasn’t spoiled his charm by coming out publicly for nationalized health care. The family behind Little Caesars Pizza announced a million-dollar fundraiser for the president, so they’re off the list. Bad luck if the only other place in town is Little Claudius Pulcher’s Pizza or Catiline’s Deep Dish, because they’re big progressives from way back.

This is new. In the past, it would have been unthinkable for a company that sold its products to everyone to pick sides. It’s election time, Sal Hepatica — whose side are you on? Why, we’re on the side of America, and every hardworking American who wants gentle, overnight relief without acid hangover! Yeah, but since hardworking Americans have been suffering wage constipation for years, what’s yer stance on Davis-Bacon? Er — Sal Hepatica is a staunch supporter of the Regularity Ticket! We believe every red-blooded citizen has the right to effective, natural action for all without harsh purgatives! Oh, so it’s just citizens who deserve digestive health? So you’re racist, too?

Did I say it was new? No. When I was in college, pizza preference was a political matter. Your liberal roommate refused to eat Domino’s, because the founder was “anti-choice.” What, you mean like anchovies are mandatory? You couldn’t have a Nestlé chocolate bar, because they were selling powdered milk to Africa. Conservatives frowned at Pepsi, because Nixon struck a deal with the Reds: Pepsi could sell sugar-water behind the Iron Curtain, and we’d get Stoli, a.k.a. Gulag Juice. Offer a Pepsi to a guy whose parents fled the Worker’s Paradise and he’d scoff: That old slogan “Come alive” is rather ironic, given the millions of corpses accumulated under rule of the godless Leninists, wouldn’t you say?

At the time I agreed, but mostly because Coke had a strong patriotic vibe that went back to the marvelous all-American ads by Haddon Sundblom, their association with Santa, and a Raquel Welch campaign that induced spontaneous adolescence a year ahead of schedule. But today Coke must be shunned. Organized pressure made them tuck tail and quit the ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. They do more than exchange legislation; they’ve been supporting Voter ID, because they want an army of disenfranchised citizens who can be conscripted to work in the Koch brothers’ tin mines. Or something like that. The Kochs are involved; say no more. Things never go better with Kochs.

So it’s back to Pepsi. Except they quit ALEC, too. That leaves RC Cola, maybe, unless the company announces they’re removing carbonation from their products over concerns about climate change. “Flat is the new Green!” would be the ad campaign, probably. At this point the consumer makes the difficult decision to abandon brand identification and goes with the house brand from the low-end grocery stores. Except they’re non-union, and, you know, solidarity forever. (Unless we’re talking about those Polish guys who embarrassed the Russians. Splitters.)

Kraft quit ALEC, so that means cheese is out. Bill Gates’s foundation pulled out. No doubt they will soon drop all the verifications you have to go through to prove you own Windows, since that disenfranchises Undocumented Pirates. Switch to Macs? Apple’s Steve Jobs was a Dem, so that means it’s Linux, or dusting off the 300-pound Sinclair computer in the basement. ALEC’s actions apparently came as a TOTAL SURPRISE to the companies involved — who knew a political-action committee would turn out to be a committee that took action, politically?

In the end, you’re tempted to quote President Obama in 2008: Can’t I just eat my waffle? Not if the batter company held a pancake breakfast for Joe Biden.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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