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How culture and politics collided over a Chick-fil-A sandwich

Two days after thousands lined up at Chick-fil-A restaurants to stand in solidarity with its CEO, Dan Cathy, gay activists plan 'kiss-ins' outside its outlets to confront what they see as antigay bigotry. Today, brand solidarity crosses from economics into culture, even politics.

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“On Wednesday, standing in a queue for fast food was no longer just standing in a queue for fast food – it was standing for values and, ultimately, to support a collective vision for the direction and fate of a nation,” writes columnist Colin Horgan, in the British newspaper the Guardian.

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Brand identity has been creeping into politics for awhile, as companies such as Starbucks (gun rights) and Target (public breastfeeding) can attest. Way before that, civil rights-era lunch-counter sit-ins established businesses as political battlegrounds. But to a new degree, the Chick-fil-A protests became for some conservatives a proxy for critiques of the White House’s statements on capitalism, including Mr. Obama’s recent “you didn’t build that” suggestion to small businesses.

Acknowledging that the White House has not weighed in on the Chick-fil-A controversy, Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says “the flap about ‘you didn’t build that’ … contains this un-American assumption where you somehow start with the collective and congratulate the collective and then maybe carve out some space for the individual and what the individual accomplishes. In that way, the Chick-fil-A [backlash] is of a piece with the kind of thing we’ve gotten used to in the last four years – this intrusion of people with political power into people’s right to provide a good or service.”

For liberals, the support for Chick-fil-A and its CEO, who has contributed $5 million to several organizations considered by some to be “antigay,” hints at a simmering intolerance, and even hatred, that remain unaddressed and could be unleashed if Obama loses the presidency.

"I have never felt so alien in my own country as I did today while covering the restaurant's supporters,” a Florida newspaper reporter wrote on his Facebook page after filing a story.

The kiss-in Friday is intended to confront Cathy’s religious views by highlighting the growing cultural acceptance of gay couples. Perhaps sensing a sensitive political moment, protest sponsors suggested that protesters be respectful and not “lewd” in their actions.

For its part, Chick-fil-A has refrained from making any more political statements about the controversy swirling around its red-and-white sign. “We understand from news reports that Friday may present yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food,” the company said in a statement about the kiss-in protests.

For some on the sidelines, however, the messages swirling around Chick-fil-A’s by-all-accounts-delicious sandwich were too muddled to mean much.

“Through all the din of the controversy, the message being conveyed is no more coherent than a conversation through the microphone on the drive-through line,” former US Rep. Philip English (R) of Pennsylvania told Politico.

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