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.
So how about Bryant and McKay and a few others forming a group to propose strong, bipartisan solutions for the state and the region? Schultz could provide free coffee, at least.