Thursday, August 25, 2011

Howard Schultz Is Helpless At Politics

Many successful businesspeople don't understand how you accomplish political goals:
Led by Howard Schultz of Starbucks, more than 100 CEOs have signed a pledge to halt all political campaign contributions until lawmakers, as Schultz puts it, "stop the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C." ...AOL's Tim Armstrong, Frontier Communications' Maggie Wilderotter, Zipcar's Scott Griffith, Whole Foods' Walter Robb and Intuit's Bill Campbell have all signed up... Schultz has said his breaking point was the contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling -- and the failure to reach a long-term solution to lower deficits.
Maybe they're not telling it straight (hey, the economy is bad, and they have mansion payments to make) and this as a cover story. If so, clever or whatever.

But if they're serious -- the way you actually change the political system is not by leaving. It's by identifying the people who are closer to doing what you want, rewarding them, and punishing the people who are further away from doing what you want. Even if you think every single incumbent in the country is equally bad (which is unlikely, there are 536 of them at the federal level and countless more down further, so you can find a dozen that you really like and fund them) you could at least let their challengers know that pledges to do things the bipartisan way will be rewarded.

I wouldn't be annoyed about this if these were corrupt people who were using their money to corrupt the system. And for all I know, maybe they actually are just corrupt and I shouldn't be annoyed. But for the time being I'm taking their claims of being public-spirited people seriously worried about partisan gridlock at face value. If that's the truth, the path forward is easy. Identify the greatest villains (hint: if someone happily self-describes as a hostage-taker in the debt ceiling fight and says he'll do it again? there's a villain) and commit yourself to their destruction. Call them out as the unreasonable ones, and commit to helping their opponents.

If you take the people who claim to want bipartisanship at face value, they stand out in our politics as a class of especially confused and ineffective people. I guess the people who voted for Christine O'Donnell over Mike Castle in last year's Delaware GOP primary might outrank them on that score, and those who voted Nader in swing states back in 2000. But really, this is a case where it may be charitable to see them as dishonest, because the alternative is to see them as morons, and it just depends on what you think is worse.


JBJ said...

This story is another data point to suggest that Howard Schultz is not that astute about politics.

CreidS said...

CEOs tend to make pretty bad narrative authors, with some exception (see Jobs, Steve). I guess that this stems from paying people to do and believe what you say, as opposed to consensus building. Politicians rarely get the kind of loyalty that comes from paying someone.

Also interesting to note: these CEOs have essentially tried to fire their politicians.

Too bad it isn't that easy.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I wish we could have this kind of incompetence among CEOs who were actually trying to do corrupt things.