Commentary: Revisiting the great Chick-fil-a debate

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverAugust 19, 2012 

There are two things I really like about me.

One is my very strong physical resemblance to Denzel Washington. You may have noticed it – if you squint through your weak eye while standing on your head after seven rum-and-Cokes.

The second thing is how I’m not afraid to admit when I make a mistake. I made a doozy two weeks ago, when I castigated both sides in the Great Chicken Sammitch Debate. You see, I cast a pox on some gay community sympathizers for attacking Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy for saying in an interview that he supports traditional marriage. I also cast one on some of Cathy’s supporters for imbuing the simple purchase of a chicken sandwich with way too much symbolic importance.

One side, I pointed out, was intolerant. The other, suffering a surfeit of self-satisfaction, was intolerable.

If you doubt the latter, just look at news clips of former Arkansas Gov. Mike “Cluck” Huckabee, who on his own declared Aug. 1 national Chick-fil-A Day, striding boldly to the C-f-A counter. The only thing missing was the “Spirit of ’76” fife player and the little drummer boy limping along behind.

Even without that, the scene conjured images of Martin Luther striding up and nailing his 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg or, at the least, President Ronald Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall and declaring “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Eating symbolically

Not really. All Gov. Cluck said was “Gimme a chicken sammitch, hon,” or something equally inelegant. And a chicken sandwich, I assumed, was all he and the thousands of others got.

How silly of me.

“No,” a reader who goes by the screen name Gevalia wrote, “It wasn’t just a chicken sandwich. It was millions of us who are fed up with being told by the media, and in many cases politicians, how we should react and what we should believe ... . And yes, the chicken tasted a lot better than any other chicken I have ever eaten.”

Gevalia, bless his or her soul, obviously never ate at the late, lamented Chicken Box over in East Rockingham right off U.S. 74, where the chicken was divine but the hushpuppies were better than that. And man, don’t even talk about their sweet tea. Ooooweee.

Great sandwiches in time

Still, in not bestowing proper weight to the actions of those who showed their support for Cathy’s stance or for free speech, I was overlooking the important part sandwiches have played throughout American history. I shall now rectify that error and pay proper homage to the sandwich.

Maestro, fife music, please:

It was to the Virginia Convention in 1775 that Patrick Henry supposedly intoned, “Give me liberty or give me a sandwich,” although some historians now debate whether he actually asked for a panini or corned beef on rye. Still others, noting that Henry was putting on weight and may have been one of the first proponents of the Atkins low-carb diet, suggest that he merely asked for a Smithfield ham with no bread at all.

A year later, Nathan Hale said, equally fatalistically, “I only regret that I have but one sandwich to give for my country.” Or was it “Could you put some mayonnaise on this?”

Abraham Lincoln began his greatest speech with “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new sandwich.”

Of course, who can forget the famous Revolutionary War battle cry, “Don’t fire until you see the white bread of their sandwiches.”

Dr. King, in his most famous speech, said he had a dream “that one day ... the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood and have a sandwich.”

Now, that isn’t a bad idea at all. He would have probably said to the gays, “Y’all can come, too.”

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