The Libertarian Case FOR Serving Sarah Huckabee Sanders (and Other People You Disagree With)
Her money is green, and you can talk to her while she's chowing down.
My colleague Robby Soave has already published a libertarian defense of refusing to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Over the weekend, Sanders and her party were bounced from the Red Hen, a restaurant in Virginia. The restaurant's owner said "this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals."
Well, sure, knock yourself out. The doctrinaire libertarian defense of the owner is pretty straightforward: A business owner should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, good, bad, and stupid. (Note: Such a position is not the law of the land due to various antidiscrimination laws). Just as an anti-gay cake baker should be able to pass on making a wedding cake, or a racist can refuse service because she doesn't like the skin color of a potential customer, the Red Hen's owner should be able to kick out this or that customer just because.
Those arguments make sense, I guess. But I think the decision to withhold service is usually illiberal and damaging to civil discourse, which, like property rights, is also something we should value as libertarians. Unlike many of my Reason colleagues, I don't get too bothered with laws that mandate equal treatment under the law at businesses that are open to the public. If you want to be a private club so you can discriminate for x or y reason, go right ahead. But there is a social value in saying that businesses that claim to be open to the public will not be allowed to exclude individuals or groups unless they are being specifically disruptive. It's one thing to kick out a rowdy party of women at a restaurant. It's another to refuse to serve women at all.
Libertarians are quick to point out that capitalism works to break down prejudice and bias precisely because everyone's money is green. The profit motive can trump tribal, political, or ideological prejudices. Once a racist, a homophobe, or a NeverTrumper starts working side by side with or serving the object of their scorn, it's quite possible that meaningful conversation will take place. Who knows, people may even find common ground and start building out from that toward a better, more-inclusive society? There are also questions of proportion here. As press secretary, Sanders is an habitual liar (that is the job of a press secretary, regardless of who she serves), but she's also not, I don't know, Henry Kissinger at the height of the Vietnam War, or even Stephen Miller, the Trump adviser credited with engineering the controversial family-separation policy talking place on our southern border.
From a strictly pragmatic level, did the bouncing of Sarah Huckabee Sanders do anything to undermine Trump's support or policies? No, of course not. If anything, it simply hardens the hearts of his supporters. It's no secret that Donald Trump is the troll in chief, an expert hand at making people who disagree with him act like total jerks. Time and again, for instance, the media gets blinded by its Trump Delusion Syndrome and makes serious mistakes (most recently, consider the case of the girl that wasn't separated at the border). Nobody wins in a pissing contest but everybody ends up getting wet, right? In the wake of the incident, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), surely one of the least-impressive members of the group that Mark Twain called America's only native criminal class, has called for a non-stop campaign of public shaming of anyone associated with the Trump administration. "For these members of his cabinet who remain and try to defend him they're not going to be able to go to a restaurant, they're not going to be able to stop at a gasoline station," she dreams.
Good luck with all that, Rep. Waters. America is already staggering under the weight of every goddamn thing we do being hyper-politicized. One of the creators of Twitte just apologized for eating a Chick-fil-A, for god's sake. If you want to actually change somebody's mind, you're far better off using unexpected opportunities to demonstrate essential humanity to your enemies and opponents, rather than fulfill stereotypes. Perhaps it would have been a smaller story (or none at all) if the Red Hen owner had taken a few minutes at the end of the meal to sit down with Sanders and explain the nature of her grievances with various Trump policies. I suspect that sort of treatment would go farther than kicking Sanders the hell out.
As with most things, of course, this all really just life imitating Seinfeld. Here's a clip from an episode in which Jerry clears out a restaurant by forcing customers to find out whether the owner agrees with them on the issue of abortion. It's very funny, but I know I don't want to live in this sort of world.