Mark Steyn: Don’t cross the forces of tolerance
To modify Lord Acton, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, but aldermanic power corrupts all der more manically. Proco “Joe” Moreno is Alderman of the First Ward of Chicago, and last week, in a city with an Aurora-size body count every weekend, his priority was to take the municipal tire-iron to the owners of a chain of fast-food restaurants. “Because of this man’s ignorance,” said Alderman Moreno, “I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the First Ward.”
“This man’s ignorance”? You mean, of the City of Chicago permit process? Zoning regulations? Health and safety ordinances? No, Alderman Moreno means “this man’s ignorance” of the approved position on same-sex marriage. “This man” is Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, and a few days earlier he had remarked that “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” – which last part suggests he is as antipathetic to no-fault divorce and other heterosexual assaults on matrimony as he is to more recent novelties such as gay marriage. But no matter. Alderman Moreno does not allege that Chick-fil-A discriminates in its hiring practices or in its customer service. Nor does he argue that business owners should not be entitled to hold opinions: The Muppets, for example, have reacted to Mr. Cathy’s observations by announcing that they’re severing all ties with Chick-fil-A. Did you know that the Muppet Corporation has a position on gay marriage? Well, they do. But Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef would be permitted to open a business in the First Ward of Chicago because their opinion on gay marriage happens to coincide with Alderman Moreno’s. It’s his ward, you just live in it. When it comes to lunch options, he’s the chicken supremo, and don’t you forget it.
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The city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, agrees with the Alderman: Chick-fil-A does not represent “Chicago values” – which is true if by “Chicago values” you mean machine politics, AIDS-conspiracy-peddling pastors and industrial-scale black youth homicide rates. But, before he was mayor, Rahm Emanuel was President Obama’s chief of staff. Until the president’s recent “evolution,” the Obama administration held the same position on gay marriage as Chick-fil-A. Would Alderman Moreno have denied Barack Obama the right to open a chicken restaurant in the First Ward? Did Rahm Emanuel quit the Obama administration on principle? Don’t be ridiculous. Mayor Emanuel is a former ballet dancer, and when it’s politically necessary he can twirl on a dime.
Meanwhile, fellow mayor Tom Menino announced that Chick-fil-A would not be opening in his burg anytime soon. “If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult,” said His Honor. If you’ve just wandered in in the middle of the column, this guy Menino isn’t the mayor of Soviet Novosibirsk or Kampong Cham under the Khmer Rouge, but of Boston, Mass. Nevertheless, he shares the commissars’ view that in order to operate even a modest and politically inconsequential business it is necessary to demonstrate that one is in full ideological compliance with party orthodoxy. “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail,” Mayor Menino thundered in his letter to Mr. Cathy, “and no place for your company alongside it.” No, sir. On Boston’s Freedom Trail, you’re free to march in ideological lockstep with the city authorities – or else. Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when Massachusetts was a beacon of liberty: the shot heard round the world, and all that. Now it fires Bureau of Compliance permit-rejection letters round the world.
Mayor Menino subsequently backed down and claimed the severed rooster’s head left in Mr. Cathy’s bed was all just a misunderstanding. Yet, when it comes to fighting homophobia on Boston’s Freedom Trail, His Honor is highly selective. As the Boston Herald’s Michael Graham pointed out, Menino is happy to hand out municipal licenses to groups whose most prominent figures call for gays to be put to death. The mayor couldn’t have been more accommodating (including giving them $1.8 million of municipal land) of the new mosque of the Islamic Society of Boston, whose IRS returns listed as one of their seven trustees Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Like President Obama, Imam Qaradawi’s position on gays is in a state of “evolution”: He can’t decide whether to burn them or toss ’em off a cliff. “Some say we should throw them from a high place,” he told Al-Jazeera. “Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement … . The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.” Unlike the deplorable Mr. Cathy, Imam Qaradawi is admirably open-minded: There are so many ways to kill homosexuals, why restrict yourself to just one? In Mayor Menino’s Boston, if you take the same view of marriage as President Obama did from 2009 to 2012, he’ll run your homophobic ass out of town. But, if you want to toss those godless sodomites off the John Hancock Tower, he’ll officiate at your ribbon-cutting ceremony.
This inconsistency is very telling. The forces of “tolerance” and “diversity” are ever more intolerant of anything less than total ideological homogeneity. Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen Foundation – the group that gave us those pink “awareness raising” ribbons for breast cancer – decided to end its funding of Planned Parenthood on the grounds that, whatever its other charms, Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with curing breast cancer. Within hours, the Komen Foundation’s Nancy Brinker had been jumped by her fellow liberals and was strapped to a chair under a light bulb in the basement with her head clamped between two mammogram plates until she recanted. A few weeks back, Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor who “says he’s never voted for a Republican presidential candidate,” published a paper in the journal Social Science Research whose findings, alas, did not conform to the party line on gay parenting. Immediately, the party of science set about ending his career, demanding that he be investigated for “scientific misconduct” and calling on mainstream TV and radio networks to ban him from their airwaves.
As an exercise in sheer political muscle, it’s impressive. But, if you’re a feminist or a gay or any of the other house pets in the Democratic menagerie, you might want to look at Rahm Emanuel’s pirouette, and Menino’s coziness with Islamic homophobia. These guys are about power, and right now your cause happens to coincide with their political advantage. But political winds shift. Once upon a time, Massachusetts burned witches. Now it grills chicken-sandwich homophobes. One day it’ll be something else. Already in Europe, in previously gay-friendly cities like Amsterdam, demographically surging Muslim populations have muted Leftie politicians’ commitment to gay rights, feminism and much else. It’s easy to cheer on the thugs when they’re thuggish in your name. What happens when Emanuel’s political needs change?
Americans talk more about liberty than citizens of other Western nations, but, underneath the rhetorical swagger, liberty bleeds. When Mayor Menino and Alderman Moreno openly threaten to deny business licenses because of ideological apostasy, they’re declaring their unfitness for public office. It’s not about marriage, it’s not about gays, it’s about a basic understanding that a free society requires a decent respect for a wide range of opinion without penalty by the state. In Menino’s Boston, the Freedom Trail is heavy on the Trail, way too light on the Freedom.