By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — When he ran for president in 2008, Mike Huckabee spoke about the good eating habits that led to his 105-pound weight loss, and he often touted his book “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.”
Now Huckabee has found some of those pounds he lost, and he has a new message: He wants Americans to eat more fast food.
“The goal is simple,” he announced this week, calling on Americans to help those who honor “the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, August 1.”
As of lunchtime Tuesday, Huckabee’s Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day already had 100,000 RSVPs. If each of those people buys the Deluxe Chicken Sandwich meal (1,080 calories) and tops that off with a brownie sundae (590 calories), the weight gain associated with Huckabee’s effort could be about 50,000 pounds.
Well done, governor. An obese nation thanks you.
Huckabee is starting this food fight for the spirit, not the body. Unfortunately, he is doing violence to both. His defense of the fast-food restaurant will make Chick-fil-A a fat target in the culture wars and will further divide Americans. Apparently, it isn’t enough to be split on matters of politics; now we must choose sides between red and blue eateries, retail stores and consumer products.
The trouble began last week, when the Biblical Recorder published an interview with Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy. Cathy defended his closed-on-Sunday policy and his contributions through a foundation to conservative causes. Cathy, though attesting that his wasn’t a “Christian business,” said he was “guilty as charged” when asked about opposition to gay marriage: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
This implied that gay people (not to mention divorced people) had no business eating at Chick-fil-A. The reaction was furious: Boston’s mayor said he would block the company from the city, and the Jim Henson Co. stopped developing children’s meals for the restaurant. Chick-fil-A quickly retreated, saying in a statement that “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
The controversy might have wasted away, but Huckabee fed it with a call to defend Chick-fil-A against “vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left.” He protested: “If Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.”
Huckabee is thus forcing Americans to take a stand: If they eat at Chick-fil-A, they are affirming Christian principles and opposing gay marriage. But what about millions of people who don’t wish to make such a statement and merely like chicken nuggets (preferably with ranch or honey-mustard sauce) and waffle fries?
I asked T.J. Parker, the owner of the Chick-fil-A franchise in Silver Spring, what he thought about Huckabee. He looked stricken, as he should: He operates in a blue part of a blue state, across the street from Ben &Jerry’s and down the block from Whole Foods. “For any comments involving anything, you have to contact public relations,” he pleaded.
If only Cathy, and Huckabee, had shown such restraint. They didn’t, and now Chick-fil-A seems destined to climb to the top of the left’s boycott list, already crowded by, among others, Wal-Mart, Target, Bayer, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Peabody Energy and United Parcel Service. Conservatives “buy-cott” such enterprises to counteract the boycotts, while observing their own long boycott list, including: AOL, Planet Hollywood, Nike, Southwest Airlines, General Mills, JCPenney, Starwood and Whole Foods.
Boycotts are most effective when highly targeted, such as efforts to get advertisers to shun Glenn Beck’s Fox News show (now canceled) because of his outrageous accusations, or to get companies to defund the American Legislative Exchange Council over its conservative ballot initiatives. But when they are vague statements of consumer disapproval — the left doesn’t like Coors and Domino’s, while the right dislikes Starbucks and Ben &Jerry’s — they serve little purpose. If you boycott all the targeted companies, you’d be wearing no clothing, eating compost and living in a tent made of hemp you planted yourself.
There’s a difference between shunning a company simply because you don’t like the management’s politics and punishing a company for a specific misdeed. Chick-fil-A changed categories last week, and Cathy, realizing his mistake, is trying to retreat.
Huck should let him go — and stop turning people into Christian warriors simply because they want to Eat Mor Chikin.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.