The Coffee Party, local chapter

Howard Schultz of Starbucks is trying to start a national reform movement to get some big solutions to our big impasses. Here are some suggestions for translating these ideas to our state.

Coffee arabica.

Coffee arabica. Koehler's Medicinal Plants, 1887

John McKay when he was U.S. attorney for Western Washington. (Department of Justice)

John McKay when he was U.S. attorney for Western Washington. (Department of Justice) None

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, that irrepressible man, has a new crusade: saving the country from its dysfunctional politics. He wants all of us to stop contributing to candidates until a real deficit deal is reached in D.C., and he wants business leaders to accelerate hiring. He has a new website where you can send in your ideas and imbibe this new kind of caffeination.

Call it the Coffee Party. Welcome to the CaffeinNation.

Meanwhile, we are seeing the stirrings of the rise of a third party, or at least of an independent candidate. A centrist, bipartisan, Web-based movement called Americans Elect hopes to hold an Internet convention to select a third-party presidential ticket (the president and the vice president must be from different parties) to run in all 50 states in 2012.

Writing about this development, Pat Caddell (former pollster for Carter) and Douglas Schoen (former Clinton pollster) call this time a "prerevolutionary moment" in which "there is widespread support for fundamental change in the system" and a craving for "a leader who can speak for the American majority — offering not just rhetoric but a new direction and a proven record of getting things done."

Political despair and economic hard times naturally lead to this kind of talk. While such movements usually fizzle out fast, they can have the effect of putting strong ideas into circulation (forcing the mainstream candidates to coopt them), and drawing people back into political activism.

One question: why not here? It's typical of Seattle business leaders like Schultz that they like to make national and international splashes while having minimal interest in local politics. The calculation appears to be to keep peace on the home front, where no good deed goes unpunished anyway, while making hay in the national op-eds. That's one downside of our globalized local businesses.

There were two interesting political figures toying with running as independents in Washington statewide races in 2012. One was John McKay, the former Republican U.S. Attorney who made a huge splash when he led the protests among such U.S. Attorneys against the politicized Bush Department of Justice. McKay, who now teaches at the Seattle U. School of Law, looked at running for state attorney general as an independent, but has instead endorsed the Republican candidate, Reagan Dunn.

The other is Bill Bryant, a Port of Seattle commissioner with moderate Republican roots and now an independent-minded figure with ambitions for higher office. Bryant was exploring a run for governor as an independent. He's put such plans on the shelf while running for reelection at the Port this fall, and I suspect he's not going to get back into the governor's race unless one of the two well-connected front runners falters badly.

True, an independent governor would have a hard time "getting things done," given that both parties in the Legislature would be hostile. But what about the Schultz variation of this "prerevolutionary moment"? Why no powerful figures from the business world laying out bold and plausible initiatives for the region and our sputtering economy? Some nominees for the honor: REI's Sally Jewell, former Delta CEO Jerry Grinstein, wireless executive John Stanton, Microsoft's top lawyer Brad Smith, and just-departing Gates Foundation leader Sylvia Burwell.

Hard to say if business-wary, populist Seattle would stomach advice from such folks. Or if Seattle-wary state voters would wam to advice from Seattle tycoons. Local businesses have a lot of local fish to fry and need friends and favors in high places, so they tend to get all bland at the local level. And there are few independent agencies, such as think tanks or policy shops, to validate some strong new ideas and give them traction.

That said, there are two good examples of how to launch a kind of solutions-focused, big-picture centrism in this state. One is in Idaho where an independent business leader, Keith Allred, formed a group to seek big bipartisan solutions for the state and then was cajoled into the thankless task of running as a Democratic candidate for governor against the very popular Gov. Butch Otter, who trounced him. The more successful example was in Kansas, where Kathleen Sebelius was elected governor by stressing her ability to work with both parties and earned trust as a skilled mediator.

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Posted Thu, Aug 25, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I've long believed the United States would be much better off under a parliamentary form of government. Parties would have to stand for something, and the ones that resonate with enough voters to win significant numbers of seats would be the ones in charge. There'd be the added bonus of elections when they're needed, not at some arbitrary interval. George W. Bush would have lost a vote of confidence long before Iraq and Afghanistan; we'd be having elections now (if not a little while ago), instead of gridlock in Congress. The far right would not be able to hijack the government as they are doing now. A party or parties that ignore the will of the people would be gone in short order. Democracy, not Democracy Theater...


Posted Thu, Aug 25, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Hmm, you quote two Fox approved Democrats writing in a Murdoch paper. You have moderate Republicans like John McKay and Bill Bryant. Hmmm, I wonder what the theme is here? Moderate Republicans!!!! Whatever happened to those guys???

Here's an idea: why don't all these moderate Republicans take their party back from the kooks like Michelle Bachmann, Cain, and all the other Tea Birchers? Remember them? The ones that will never raise taxes ever on anyone? The ones hiring crowds to show up at Town Hall meetings screaming about keeping the government out of their medicare while voting to abolish it?

Then maybe they can compromise instead of doing everything they can to wreck the economy so they can get the black guy out of the white house.


Posted Fri, Aug 26, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

Here's a good piece on third parties and the dead-skunk center.

BTW, Americans Elect has already been debunked for accepting secret funding. So much for changing the dysfunctional national politics.

I'm in favor of creating a statutory and constitutional infrastructure for a more parliamentary, multi-party system. That's what Nader should have campaigned for instead of running his egotistical presidential races. But voting for a third-party candidate now when that guarantees the victory of someone like George W. Bush or Rick Perry is suicidal.

This article reflects a fetishistic belief that somehow business-minded leaders can overcome national divisions and craft tough, pragmatic solutions that politicians who don't come from business are incapable of doing. But businesses generally have not led on addressing our national economic problems, our health care problems, our environmental problems, etc. There are fundamental class issues, concerning the growing disparity of wealth, that can't be addressed by a "centrist," whatever that is. There are fundamental differences in political views in America, and this "bipartisan centrist" outlook doesn't come to grips with that. I completely agree with pjh that if moderate Republicans took back their party, that would go a long way toward fixing our current political problems.

Posted Fri, Aug 26, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

I recently read a book about John Quincy Adams, which is quite relevant to this discussion. Adams the last US President who approximated a nonpartisan status. Adams was a distinguished leader who had been Secretary of State under James Monroe. By the Monroe administration, the Federalist Party had fallen out of favor in national contests and the country was under the rule of one party. But the Republican Party of Jefferson had become disorganized, and by Monroe's second term, it was succumbing to regionalism and factionalism.

Adams sought to continue the non-factional approach of the Monroe administration in two key ways. First, he refused to use the spoils system to advance his supporters. Second, he and Henry Clay advanced the "American System", a program of high tariffs, internal improvements, and reciprocity in foreign trade in order to develop manufacturing and improve the home market for domestic farmers. This can be seen as Adams' answer to the regionalism that was starting to divide the country.

How did it turn out? Adams took too far his policy of refusing the use the spoils system to reward his friends. The result was a federal bureaucracy that was rife with both corruption and hostility to the administration. The attempt to develop a national program that would appeal to all the regions, while it would have been good for the country, failed to attract enough support in the West and the South. Jacksonians in Congress were unimpressed and formed an impenetrable phalanx of opposition. Finally, Adams failed to utilize the party structure needed to organize electoral victories for his supporters and ultimately his own in 1828. All of these factors doomed the American System to insignificance until the Civil War.

I believe that Adams' heart was in the right place, but he suffered from a major flaw that afflicted both his father and future presidents, such as Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Adams believed that he singularly possessed the ability to craft a policy of national, rather that parochial or regional, interest, and he underappreciated the needs and concerns of both ideology and region. Were it possible for one of the major groups presenting itself as a nonpartisan, centrist alternative to today's partisan nonsense to gain control of high office, it is easy to see that alternative going down in the same as did John Quincy Adams.

Posted Tue, Aug 30, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

It would be easier to convert a state to a parliamentary form of government than to try and do it nationally. Jessie the body, Ventura tried to get rid of one of the houses in Minnesota. Which if you think about it in state government the Senate is pretty useless. In fact it's useless nationally as well.

Still given a government which rules when it wins, we could still do a lot of stupid things. England came with us on Iraq and Afghanistan, but probably more to do with the old Empire than any real threat.

As for Shultz? the guy who sold the Sonics to Oklahoma? He's not my kind of leader. And most business leaders can't jump into politics anyway. Politics requires a lot of friends, who owe you favors, who you know the dirt on to get anything done. LBJ was a master at it. (and not a nice person either)


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