Rage Against the Coke Machine

Right-wing conservatives were in a tizzy over Coca Cola's new ad. Here's why you shouldn't dismiss them or their influence.

The Coca Cola Company—as is its wont—had one of the best ads to air on Super Bowl Sunday. In the one minute spot, several singers perform a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful,” with verses in English, Spanish, and Arabic. It’s rousing, inspired, and deeply patriotic: a reflection on what binds us as Americans–our love of sugary, carbonated beverages. Here’s the ad, if you missed it:

But, for a few loud conservatives, this burst of multiculturalism was a smack in the face, an unwanted presence during this annual celebration of America’s most popular sport cum civil religion. First, there was Allen West—the former Tea Party congressman—who wrote, in what I imagine was spittle-flecked rage, that “If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition.” (So far, on Facebook, this has been shared nearly 14,000 times.)

Then, there was Todd Starnes, the mendacious Fox News host who complained that “Coca Cola is the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border.” Likewise, Breitbart.com, noted the presence of a gay couple in the ad. And of course, on Twitter, there was a steady stream of anger, collected under the hashtag “BoycottCoke.”

None of this was a surprise. If so much of the right-wing is devoted to defending the traditional order from “others,” then it’s no shock they would react with anger to something that reminds them of how much the country has changed in its complexion and cultural identity.

Indeed, it’s tempting to look at this reaction and conclude that culturally and politically, their moment has past. That they, along with the GOP that represents them, are shut out of national politics. But that would be a mistake.

This year, right-wing Republican candidates—the kinds of people who would support the complaints of West or Starnes—will run in almost every competitive Senate race, and in places like Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, they’re likely to win. And that’s to say nothing of the right-wing Republicans who populate the House of Representatives and are certain to return next year, thanks to the power of incumbency and geographic sorting.

More broadly, there are millions of Americans who sympathize with their views, and millions more who will vote for the politicians who do.

Every so often, there are cultural hubbubs (like this one) that inspire a little liberal triumphalism—a sense that we’re on the “right side” of history, and that, in the end, we’ll win. This is nonsense. Laugh at the right-wing reaction to Coke as much as you’d like, but don’t think this reflects a favorable balance of political power.

Yes, the Right captive to hidebound forces, and yes, it’s out of step with American public opinion. Still, conservative Republicans stand a good chance of winning control of Congress this year, and a decent chance of winning the Oval Office in 2016. In other words, having reactionary views won’t make you popular, but it doesn’t stop you—or your political party—from holding real power.