How dumb is the 2020 presidential election campaign going to be? Unfathomably dumb. Breathtakingly dumb. Seriously; pretty dumb.
And that’s just among the mainstream candidates. Just wait and see what happens if an independent billionaire jumps in the race.
Exhibit A this week: Howard Schultz, the former chief executive officer of Starbucks, is reportedly mulling a third-party or independent run for president. Schultz, a longtime Democrat, says both parties are hopelessly dysfunctional. (Which is undeniably true.) Neither political party, for example, is lifting a finger to address the $21.9 trillion national debt.
Exhibit A-1: Schultz appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Wednesday, where he was interrogated about, wait for it, the price of a box of Cheerios.
Schultz was shocked to learn that Cheerios cost around four bucks — or less than a triple grande mocha. (But not nearly as delicious.) It also has nothing to do with the national debt, or immigration, or foreign policy, or anything else worth discussing.
Does it matter that a billionaire ex-CEO doesn’t know how much a box of cereal costs? Only if you’re in the business of asking stupid gotcha questions on television. I don’t know how much Cheerios cost, either. I don’t even eat cereal. Do you?
Maybe the better question is what Schultz has to offer that any of the other dozen or so Democratic candidates for president do not.
Democrats are vexed over Schultz. Spoiler alert: They consider him a spoiler candidate akin to Ralph Nader in 2000 or Jill Stein in 2016. In a close race, he would siphon votes from the Democratic Party’s nominee and hand the election to President Trump.
Schultz offered a rationale for his candidacy in USA Today on Tuesday: People seemingly want choice untainted by the Republican or Democratic Party brands. He noted that 66 percent of likely voters in a recent No Labels/HarrisX poll say “neither party is really representing my needs or interests.” Moreover, a Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe the country could use a viable third-party.
I enjoyed the observation of an unnamed Democratic political consultant. “He’s Ralph Nader without any of Nader’s redeeming qualities. What’s his value proposition for America? Make America like a corporate chain?”
That’s exactly it, right there. And that’s why Schultz is not up to the task.
Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982, when it was a tiny Seattle-based chain with four stores. Today, Starbucks is a ubiquitous brand with 30,000 stores and more than 3 million people on the payroll. The former CEO says the company has succeeded because it treats its people “with dignity,” offering its baristas health insurance, stock options, and a tuition-free college education.
Which is great. But that’s only part of the story. All of those things come with asterisks and caveats. Starbucks is successful because it is ruthlessly efficient. A store’s success is judged by a host of finely-honed metrics — fat binders full of them — not just quarterly sales growth or profitability.
“The Sopranos” captured the idea brilliantly. A pair of mobsters enter a corporate coffee shop that is clearly representative of Starbucks. They’re collecting “dues” for the “North Ward Merchant’s Protective Cooperative.” In other words, they’re trying to shake down the manager for protection money.
“I don’t have any discretionary funds,” the store manager replies. “It’s gotta go through corporate.” The men are undeterred.
What if the store is vandalized? “There are, like, 10,000 stores in North America.” What if, God forbid, something should happen to an employee? Say, the manager?
“Every last coffee bean is in the computer and has to be accounted for,” he answers. “If it’s not, I’ll be gone and somebody else will be here.”
The gangsters leave crestfallen. “It’s over for the little guy.”
Government is not a business and cannot be run that way. (President Trump, at his worst, confuses the two things.) Government is about protecting the rights of everyone, including the little guy. (Trump, at his best, knows so and says so.)
Government doesn’t respond to incentives the same way businesses do because it doesn’t really produce anything. The vast majority of government employees cannot be fired if their metrics don’t measure up. Their metrics are never going to measure up.
Government starts to fail when it forgets that the people it serves are rights-bearing individuals. We are not “customers” and we are not employees who can be replaced if we don’t meet the nation’s “quarterly metrics.” We are citizens. We’re meant to be free.
Schultz says he won’t run for president “unless I think I can win.” Whether he can win or not, he should not run if he doesn’t understand that governing a country is not the same as building a successful Fortune 500 company.