It was a small incident first reported on Twitter that later went viral. In the middle of a meal with family, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. The staff did not feel comfortable serving her party.
Sarah turned the other cheek and left, but the news caused an international sensation as an obvious case of discrimination based, not on sex or race, but on conservative convictions.
A Double Standard
The humiliating incident appears just after the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court case involved Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who declined to make a custom cake for two homosexuals and their “marriage” celebration. The narrow court decision favoring Phillips only dealt with his treatment by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, not his opting out of making the custom cake.
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The baker’s tale incited the ire of liberals everywhere. However, the same liberals that raged against the baker’s “intolerance,” look with warm, fuzzy feelings of understanding at The Red Hen staff.
Thus, in a reverse way, Sarah, the consumer, joins the ranks of those like Jack the baker/producer, who can be pilloried and punished for not conforming to liberal ideology.
The Failure of Liberalism
Many see the Red Hen incident as just another example of progressive intolerance. However, it also marks one more milestone in the failure of liberalism.
Political liberalism embracing a vision of culture, freedom, individualism and economy has long united America into a cooperative union. It promised the maximum amount of individual freedom. It asked a minimal social commitment as individuals pursued happiness and pleasure. This vision dominated the American way of life as long as there were those who retained some notions of civic and Godly virtue.
The failure of political liberalism is a topic of much debate. Many now say that its promises have collapsed. In his recent book, Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen shows how, one by one, the points of unity of the liberal vision have corroded in the face of moral decadence and liberalism’s own internal dynamism. At the same time, the sustaining institutions of family, community and faith have come apart as individualism triumphed.
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Thus, the American cooperative union is now broken. It is polarized between those who interpret liberalism’s freedom to mean the absence of restraint and those who insisted upon minimal civic responsibilities.
The tensions between the two parties have escalated. Sarah’s tale is a clear example of those who have come to seethe with hatred toward those who would impose limits of any kind.
The Last Point of Unity
What makes Sarah’s tale different is that it involves one of the last liberal elements that has thrived despite everything: the rule of money. Free markets have generated a unifying prosperity. Money and markets generally make no social distinctions and harbor no ideological bias. Money supposedly overcomes all obstacles since all want to obtain it. The dollar serves as the lowest common denominator that allows America to function efficiently despite all other festering differences.
However, with the Red Hen case and others, even money has been politicized. This last, least noble, point of unity cannot overcome the immense hatred that has surfaced. Normal commerce is now on the table.
Beyond the Baker’s Tale
Sarah’s tale takes the process of politicization much further than that of Baker Phillips. The baker had not refused to sell the normal items available to all in the shop. He merely declined to do a customized cake.
Unlike the baker, the staff members at The Red Hen refused to serve the press secretary the normal offerings on the menu, available to all. They had even begun service and abruptly terminated it. Thus, they had turned a neutral commercial transaction into a political one. Refusal was based not on what the person was but on what she thinks and even who she is associated with.
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There have been boycotts in the past in which consumers avoided the establishments of those with whom they disagreed. However, this reverse boycott of consumers has allowed the politically correct police to enter further into the marketplace. The message is woe to anyone who thinks differently from that of the prevailing establishment. They can be humiliated. They will not be served. And no one will care.
What was significant about the Red Hen incident is that it establishes thought as a factor of commercial exclusion. It is not just any thought but conservative or Christian thought that is unjustly targeted. Indeed, no legal action has been taken against The Red Hen. Thus, this brutal manner of behavior has been accepted as reasonable by radical liberals who target conservatives just because they think differently.
There will be no court case over the incident since Sarah has turned the other cheek. However, it is one more indication that the cooperative union is broken. Money, the last unifier of the liberal order, no longer rules the roost at The Red Hen.