ReutersOn Tuesday night, Howard Schultz, the man who envisioned coffee as more than a morning jolt and transformed American urban culture, set out to do something even bigger. Now Schultz wants to help transform American government. And if his new venture can reawaken the promise of self-government the way his first venture -- Starbucks -- has opened the drowsy eyes of ordinary Americans, it will be a big step forward in reclaiming the time when being Americans together was more important to our public officials than being a Republican-American or a Democrat-American (the party identification being the important descriptive).
Schultz has put forth a plan that combines vision with practicality. Launched In a national telephone conversation hosted by No Labels, a non-partisan organization dedicated to re-establishing a government that puts problem-solving ahead of party advantage, Schultz has combined vision with practicality. His vision is new commitment to investment in job creation. But as one notes when observing Starbucks coffee shops on thousands of urban corners -- sites carefully selected and catering to virtually every caffeine-craving taste -- Schultz is no pie-in-the-sky daydreamer. Thus he has conceived of a practical way to get the attention of public officials who too often hew to a party line and play to a narrow ideological base. In the modern political world, in which getting one's message out to voters is a costly affair, Schultz has taken dead aim at the financial inbox. He is calling on citizens who share the frustration he feels, and that led to the creation of No Labels, to cut off all campaign contributions until "a transparent, comprehensive, bipartisan debt-and-deficit package is reached." He demands no particular outcome; he is silent as to whether taxes should be raised or entitlements reformed or military spending reduced. He is not trying to become a substitute for the president or the members of Congress. He is merely demanding -- and "demanding" is the right word -- that they all come together to put America back on "a path to long-term financial health and security."
Here is why Schultz and No Labels are so important. Unlike other organizations which focus on putting more players or more parties into the political mix (we've done that repeatedly and nothing changes), No Labels is focused on changing the fundamentals of the system -- the "closed" primaries that allow small bands of zealots to deprive general election voters of a wide range of choices, the drawing of congressional district lines (and thus shaping constituencies) to gain advantage for whatever party dominates a particular state legislature, allowing party leaders to demand loyalty in exchange for seats on important congressional committees, etc. No Labels' goal is to create a federal government in which the party identifications are set aside and the Executive and Legislative branches become working groups of concerned citizens acting together to solve national problems. Which doesn't seem like too much to ask. And Schultz -- the living proof that capitalism, done right, can work -- understands the importance of the incentive system. Right now, the primary incentives of the system discourage compromise and reward hard-line intransigence; Schultz, by working to cut off campaign funds, is seeking to provide a greater incentive for cooperation than for partisanship.
So I'm joining No Labels -- an organization with which I've happily aligned myself -- in urging support for the Schultz initiative. A cooperative, less partisan government? I'll drink to that. No latte, please, or cappuccino: I'll take my reform straight.
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