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Coffee With Schultz

This Week in the Narrative 117

Nigel Clarke

At the end of January, billionaire ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that he was “seriously considering” a run for President in 2020. He joins other uber-rich tall foreheads like Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Cuban, and Michael Bloomberg in examining the prospect of wading into what seems will be the most untethered and out-of-control election in the history of the country (or at least since 1912).

The response to the announcement has largely been as it is any time a third party or independent candidate considers a political run — critical. Many in the mainstream media and on the so-called “left” have proclaimed that, should he run, Schultz will only siphon votes from the Democratic candidate, paving the road for another Trump victory.

It is the same argument which was used with Jill Stein in 2016, and Ralph Nader in 2000, the same argument used by the other side with Ross Perot in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton twice won the presidency with less than 50% of the popular vote — as in, “We can’t split the vote, particularly in this case, or our opponent will win,” with the secret being “in this case” is “in every case,” the opponent always portrayed as the most grotesque creature imaginable.

The counter to this argument is that it’s ostentatiously anti-democratic; it implies that a political party or candidate has a right to a person’s vote, and if that person should choose to vote for someone else, it would deprive the candidate of this right. This, in direct contradiction to the idea that a person has the right to vote for whomever they damn well please.

Really though, it is not so much a debate over whether or not to vote for Jill Stein or Ross Perot, but a debate over the definition of choice.

To put it in terms Howard Schultz would understand: It’s like deciding you’d like a coffee and being told to choose anything off the Starbucks menu, versus deciding you’d like a coffee and choosing whether to go to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or the gas station down at the corner, or brewing a pot at home, or, heck, having lemonade instead.

The problem with the current two party system is that the “menu,” such as it is, is extremely limited, like choosing between a black coffee and a black coffee with a sleeve on the cup; both the same, but one with slightly more window dressing. Both parties serve the interests of large corporations, the uber-rich, and, as such, the government, of both parties, is less popular than hemorrhoids and traffic jams. But if the goal is expanding the definition of choice, then introducing an “independent” candidate like Howard Schultz into the presidential race is functionally irrelevant because it doesn’t address the problem; it doesn’t expand the menu; it does not alter the choice. A government subservient to billionaires and a government run by one are the same thing.

Interestingly, and despite already having come out against Medicare for All, government-funded college education, and higher taxes on the uber-rich (as in, some of the most popular policy proposals in the country), Schultz claims to represent the “silent majority” of Americans, harkening back to Richard Nixon to frame his potential campaign.

Here is a proposition, more of a fantasy perhaps, but still: Since, despite overwhelming statistical evidence, mainstream media and politicians seem confused as to what the majority of Americans want, how about using the 2020 election as a kind of de facto referendum? Rather than two or even three candidates running — “running” meaning appearing in the debates and day-to-day media coverage — how about five or six? Have Bernie Sanders run as a representative of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other progressive policies, and Joe Biden as a representative of the Clinton/Obama legacy. Schultz can run as a hipsterish figurehead of both corporatocracy and frivolous billionaire hobbyists; Trump can run as himself and Ted Cruz can run as Trump without the outward buffoonery.

Of course, this is more fantasy than proposition because mainstream media and politicians already know how the results would fall — the same way the polls do. This is why they so resolutely defend their narrow and undemocratic definition of “choice,” why they defend a two party system in which both parties are functionally the same. Here’s your black coffee; you want a sleeve on your cup?


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Written by Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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