Lysistrata had the wrong idea. So does Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
The best way to fix political gridlock?Don't cut off corporate donations to politicians, as Schultz suggests.
Cut off their coffee.
At first, it wouldn't seem like much.
"Surely we can survive without the bean," politicians would scoff, grinning. "This will be a piece of cake. It’s not like anyone’s pulling a Lysistrata."
The first day, things would seem all right. "I'm fine," everyone would say, smiling with an unnatural brightness. "See, I'm cheerful, but not too cheerful. I'm not shaking or quivering at all. I never needed the stuff! Let's have a protracted debate on something!"
The Tea Party would seem smug and invigorated. "Tea is not coffee," they would say. But when they passed Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and Cosi and noticed the barricades at the door, they too would pale.
Soon the embargo would sink in.
The first day of business would begin. Someone would notice John McCain drooping into his desk whenever John Kerry began to speak. Kerry would try prodding him in the back, to limited avail.
Ron Paul would remain surprisingly alert. “Let’s jog after this,” he’d volunteer.
By the second day, everyone would be irritable. "Why are you still talking?" they would mutter, under their breath, as Bernie Sanders rambled on. “If this is a filibuster, I swear--”
"I miss Anthony Weiner already,” drooping Republicans would lament. “He at least was vigorous. He thumped the podium and waved his arms and used rhetorical devices!"
By the third day, civility would have broken down entirely. Senators would be clubbing each other on the floor. It would be like the 1850s all over again. Michele Bachmann would be disoriented and start saying controversial, strong things that not even her own base supported.
By the end of the week, everyone would be in a decaffeinated rage. They would roar at each other. Non-Texans would threaten secession. The Vermont delegation would announce out of nowhere that they never had really liked anyone and thought all cheese tasted the same. When passing each other in the hallways, staffers would snarl. Harry Reid would develop strange growths of hair and speak only in guttural grunts.
By the end of the second week, everyone would be bleary-eyed and giving serious thought to less legal forms of stimulation. They would droop through committee meetings.
If you don’t believe this will have an effect, consider my example.
I once stopped drinking caffeine, and by the end of two weeks, my whole personality had altered. Before I was cheerful and friendly. Without my coffee, I was a dogged obstructionist. People on the street mistook me for the love child of Justice Antonin Scalia and a live bear. At one point I bit the head off a live bat, mistaking it for a bat-covered coffee bean. I became a strict constructionist.
“But some people in politics are like this already,” my detractors note. “Why risk depriving them of coffee? They might become depraved on account they’re deprived.”
“We can’t have a productive discussion if you’re going to resort to quoting from West Side Story,” I shoot back.
True, if things are this bad now, it may seem difficult to imagine that people would become more calm and temperate if we took their coffee away. But we will burn that bridge once we come to it.
Howard Schultz’s point was that our politicians seem too hyper, yelly, and irritable to accomplish anything. As a result, everyone runs around screaming at each other, almost missing deadlines, and nothing good comes of it. That sounds like people who need to have their caffeine supply cut off to me.
And the rest will take care of itself. Languishing for coffee, after spending a miserable week sucking it out of filters and exhausting the District’s supply of Red Bull, they will crawl to Schultz’s doorstep for relief.
"Gridlock?" they’ll wheeze, collapsing at his feet. "Forget gridlock. What does the country need and want? Moderation? Compromise? We will give them exactly that! Just give us back our coffee."
If you don't think it'll have an effect, consider: our founders seceded from Great Britain at least in part because of a tax on tea.
Sure, the taxes were bad. But it was the caffeine that did it.