Originally created 09/25/00

Barbecue sauce politics

Food Lion is joining Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in urging its 118 supermarkets in South Carolina to remove Maurice Bessinger's popular mustard-based barbecue sauces from their shopping aisles. Other food market outlets may follow their lead to baste the barbecue sauce maker with a taste of economic boycott.

Bessinger has become practically a cult hero among some folks in the South. Unhappy with the South Carolina's decision to take the Confederate battle flag down from the Statehouse dome, Bessinger removed the American flag in front of his Columbia restaurants and replaced them with Confederate banners.

That's when Wal-Mart and Sam's Club made it clear they didn't like the flavor of Bessinger's politics and told their stores in Southern states to remove his product from their aisles.

The Confederate flag wasn't all that troubled them. Store executives thought the golden sauce maker was over the edge selling tracts at his places of business with such bizarre titles as, "The Biblical View of Slavery."

Bessinger denounced the banishment of his product as an infringement on his constitutional right to free speech. "This is nothing more than an attempt to dictate the religious beliefs and suppress freedom of expression of all of their American suppliers," he said.

Wrong, Maurice. It's not a constitutional issue. It's a free market issue.

Food Lion, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart or any other store is free to sell or not to sell Maurice's Barbecue Sauce for any reason, just as he is free to sell or not sell his controversial tracts at his eight Columbia-area Piggie Park restaurants.

Consumers are also free to choose. If they think Bessinger is being treated unfairly, they can stay out of stores that won't sell his product. This is how the free enterprise system works.

Only if the government - federal, state or local - tried to force Bessinger into taking down the Confederate flag or to stop him from selling his propaganda pamphlets would it be a constitutional issue.

But there is nothing unconstitutional about one business not buying from another because of political views, or trying to stigmatize someone for his views.

That's just politics and Bessinger needs to know that if he plays in that kitchen, it's likely to get hot for him.


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