Washington-area Starbucks are distributing coffee cups with Come Together written on them, in support of a deal on fiscal cliff issues. Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz has blogged a can’t we all just get along type of explanation on the company’s website.
Schultz says that our elected officials have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt.
The tone of the post is neutral, but there’s nothing politically neutral about a claim that to fix the national debt is either tremendously important or time-sensitive.
Continued squabbling and inaction is by far the quickest way available to dramatically reduce federal budget deficits – because inaction would allow much larger tax increases to take effect than anyone actually wants while also allowing the deep sequester spending cuts to take effect.
A second point is that the fiscal-cliff discussions are critical issues over which political have strong and legitimate disagreements.
A willingness to compromise is good; it is necessary for democracy, particularly our Madisonian version, to work.
But the fights that precede that compromise are even more necessary. Self-government requires advocacy; bargaining requires at least a bit of brinkmanship. Even if everyone involved accepts fully the need for cutting a deal, there’s nothing wrong with pretending that they’re willing to risk no deal up to the point of compromise.
All that said, the plain facts are that the two political parties have not been equivalent when it comes to brinkmanship and willingness to compromise; the Republican Party and its constituents have come to consider compromise inherently bad. Perhaps pretending otherwise and urging everyone to come together is the best remedy. But I suspect that a better remedy would be to point out exactly who is responsible, even if it means taking sides.
As political science professor Seth Masket has pointed out, there is an undercurrent of lack of interest in democracy in these types of neutral calls. This one is mostly harmless, but if Schultz believes his own rhetoric, he should be calling for whatever policies he believes are best. That’s the best way to influence the process. Even if it might not fit on a coffee cup.