BY JOE CONASON
The biography of Howard Schultz is the stuff of American capitalist folklore: a man who grew up in a Brooklyn housing project and amassed a fortune worth billions. Now he proposes to repay America by imposing the ruinous rule of Donald Trump for another four years.
Like so many billionaires, including President Trump, Schultz appears to believe that his success in business qualifies him for the highest office. Unlike Trump, Schultz is a legitimate business executive whose skills and drive created the Starbucks coffee empire. He even deserves some credit for having improved the quality of coffee available in the United States.
But inspiring as Schultz’s story may be, putting a Starbucks in every shopping mall and vacant storefront only goes so far in justifying his presidential bid. And beyond the rags-to-riches tale, there isn’t much of a record to recommend him.
In Seattle, astute observers regard Schultz as an underachieving billionaire, especially when contrasted with such figures as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Melinda Gates; the late Paul Allan, Microsoft co-founder; or even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He hasn’t created a legacy that can match the Gates Foundation’s massive support for worldwide health, not even a major museum or a crusading newspaper. The Schultz Family Foundation achieved relatively little with its founder’s money until a few years ago, and its spending still represents a small share of his wealth.
So if his own neighbors were to choose the next president, his prospects would be very dubious.
Indeed, Seattle residents still despise Schultz for selling off the beloved SuperSonics basketball franchise in 2006 to a group that moved the team to Oklahoma City, after the state legislature refused to pay for a new stadium that he could have easily financed on his own. Knowing he is still deeply unpopular in his adopted hometown, Schultz expresses regret in his new book over the Sonics debacle. But after so many years, on the eve of a presidential bid, that apology carries a distasteful whiff of public relations.
Schultz today portrays himself as a political reformer, with ambitions to “beat” the American political system and the two major parties. Yet his interest in civic affairs, beyond his desire to glom public money, seems fitful.
As the Seattle Times recently noted, Schultz didn’t bother to vote in most elections over the past 15 years. He skipped voting in nearly every state and local contest, as well as the congressional midterm elections in 2006 and 2014. Of 38 elections in which he could have cast a ballot since 2005, he has only showed up for 11.
Now that Schultz plans to participate in politics – and go straight to the top – he might be expected to tell Americans why they should elect him and what he wants to do. Whenever he is asked to offer a rationale for his candidacy, his responses sound vacuous – as weak and lukewarm as a bad cup of brew with an unpleasant hint of bitterness. If he has any fresh ideas, he isn’t pouring them.
Only one policy issue truly appears to animate Schultz: the progressive Democrats’ call for billionaires to pay higher taxes, which makes him angry. At the same time, he complains about the country’s ballooning deficits and national debt as if he doesn’t understand the math. Everyone else knows that tax cuts for the rich, imposed by Republican regimes, have depleted the Treasury and starved public services.
The most troubling aspect of Schultz’s vanity campaign is, of course, the possibility that he will spend enough money to become a spoiler, and thus, help re-elect Trump.
Evidently, a few self-serving political consultants have persuaded the rather dull Schultz that he is compelling enough to win on a third-party line. They know very well that he is far more likely to join the ranks of Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, third-party losers who drew just enough votes to elect George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
It was ominous to watch the “progressive” Stein blathering on Fox News Channel this week with white nationalist host Tucker Carlson, both thrilled by a candidacy that could destroy Democratic hopes. All the Trump sycophants on Fox are urging Schultz forward with their usual subtlety. Let’s hope he is smart enough to take that hint – and cancel this asinine project.
Until then, I’ve tasted my last cup of Starbucks.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer