He may or may not have been wearing Prada, but make no mistake: Howard Schultz is the devil.
Tuesday night, on the CNN Town Hall designed to introduce him to the nation, Schultz came across as intelligent, articulate, well-informed, well-intentioned. He had a compelling rags-to-riches life story and a modest but powerful way of telling it. You couldn’t see the horns hidden in his hair or the pitchfork he was holding, but they were there.
Schultz is not the devil because he is a centrist. Joe Biden is a centrist. Michael Bloomberg is a centrist. A number of the declared Democratic presidential candidates (Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg) will probably run as centrists. Despite decades of being pummeled from the right as some kind of Bay Area Bolshevik, Nancy Pelosi is a centrist. Not that anyone cares, but I am a centrist – by which I mean, I may be very liberal, but I recognize that many Americans are not, and that they count, too.
Centrists may be passé or short on star power or meh in the eyes of single-issue pressure groups or flat-out wrong. But centrists are not the devil.
Schultz is not the devil because he’s mega rich. Unlike the (supposed) billionaire in the White House, Schultz rose from nothing and has created tons of employment. At his town hall, he shrank from positing his business experience as a qualification for the presidency, but in key ways, it is one.
Of course, Schultz is the devil because if he mounts a third-party candidacy, he will bolster President Trump’s odds of re-election – but also, and importantly, because of the way he talks about the possibility of doing so.
As the CNN town hall made clear, that way is: he spins the oft-told, not-true tale that normal Americans can find no home in either of the major parties because both have gone equally crazy. Even when he wasn’t decrying it, Schultz was implying it: this vision of a “far left” and a “far right” and trapped between them a vast middle who just want – to use a favorite term of Schultz’s – “sensible” government.
Oh, please. There isn’t a horse on earth that would own up to producing that grade of manure.
In normal times, I’d react very differently. In normal times, when it comes to governance, I love “sensible” the way Abelard loved Heloise. I’m a common-ground, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none, sounds-great-but-how-much-is-this-going-to-cost kind of gal. In normal times, I reject the idea that Democrats are, by definition and default, superior to Republicans for the steaming pile of garbage that such an idea normally is.
These are not normal times.
If the crucial line of distinction were ideological, as it is often mistaken to be, I would argue that the Democrats have not gone nearly as far left as the Republicans have gone right; at least not yet – and that if Schultz were really concerned about the party tilting too far left, he’d do much more to counter that by exerting his gazillion-dollar force from within, a la Bloomberg. But the crucial line of distinction is not ideological.
For decades, Republicans have gotten away with depicting themselves as the party of fiscal restraint while running up vertiginous levels of public debt. Now and with equal gusto, they are ridiculing Democrats for being delusional while merrily severing strand after strand of their own connection to reality.
No question, as currently formulated, such proposals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a 70 per cent tax rate on the richest Americans, and tuition-free college may all be fantasy solutions. But at least they address real problems.
The GOP, by contrast, has dedicated itself to going hammer-and-tongs after fake ones. Especially with – but even without – Trump, it has become a phony-issue factory. Sometimes drawing raw material from actual challenges, other times working with thin air, the party of Lincoln has become scarily efficient at churning out crises that don’t exist but do resonate.
Clearly, there are real debates that need to be had in connection with every issue I am about to list, as well as many others. But as long as the Republicans keep going as they are, those debates cannot possibly be had, because their starting position on each rests upon some self-generated, ferociously-guarded fiction. Such as:
The fiction that that there is a crisis-level number of central Americans (not to mention Arabs), streaming across the southern border to terrorize Americans and steal their jobs.
That snow and ice constitute evidence against global warming.
That in the absence of an absolute ban on late-term abortions, it’s open season on newborns.
That no woman is safe in a public restroom unless transgender people are kicked out of the military and, ideally, existence.
One could go on.
It’s as if, delighted at the traction they were able to get by selling a “war on Christmas” even as the Yuletide season grew to encompass Labor Day through New Year’s, they’ve decided to try their luck at turning every issue upside down while screaming that it’s right side up.
There are constitutional fictions too, in connection with which Mitch McConnell deserves more Oscars than Meryl. Having acted as if Democratic presidents in the last year of their terms are not allowed to have their Supreme Court nominees voted up or down, McConnell more recently played – no, he truly inhabited the role of – a Senate Majority Leader convinced that he couldn’t possibly help shut down the shutdown because the legislature he runs is not allowed to pass a measure unless the president has already agreed to sign it.
And of course, the most darkly dazzling make-believe of all: that said president may have a few quirks for the liberal media to exaggerate, but nothing about him, in word or deed, need really worry anyone.
None of this is remotely true. One party has staked its life on pretending that it is, and the other party, though far from perfect, recognizes that it is not.
Who needs Russia? This time, just a semi-objective grasp of a few basic facts on the ground ought to be enough for the most “sensible” among us to go with the Democrats.
Expert though he is in all matters of coffee, Howard Schultz displays a highly questionable belief in America’s current desire to come together and try the decaf. In order for a third-party candidate to win in 2020, the national mood would have to be monumentally less partisan than it was when John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Jill Stein tried the same thing. Not to mention, as the great Charlie Cook recently pointed out, the Electoral College would have to disappear like a cube of raw cane into a double-shot of espresso.
In 2020, then, the presidency will either go to Donald Trump or to the Democratic nominee. If Schultz runs, he will obviously and greatly enhance the hopes of the former. But he doesn’t even have to run to do real damage to the latter.
Over and over again on CNN, Schultz insisted that he would not do anything to re-elect Trump.
By daring to equate the party of reality with the party of reality television, he already is.