December 28, 2012

There are few problems in this life that cannot be solved by the application of coffee. When you hear the chimes at midnight, and you have an important project that must be finished by dawn, and you have all the energy and vigor of a newspaper that has been left out in the rain — well, just apply coffee.

Coffee, according to an increasing number of studies, can fix pretty much everything that ails you. Drink six to 10 cups a day, and you can become functionally immortal, if a little twitchy.


(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

According to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the fiscal cliff is one of those problems that can be solved by coffee.

Schultz has started something called the Come Together project.

He writes: “In the spirit of the Holiday season and the Starbucks tradition of bringing people together, we have a unique opportunity to unite and take action on an incredibly important topic. As many of you know, our elected officials in Washington D.C. have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt. You can learn more about this impending crisis at www.fixthedebt.org.

“Rather than be bystanders, we have an opportunity — and I believe a responsibility — to use our company’s scale for good by sending a respectful and optimistic message to our elected officials to come together and reach common ground on this important issue. This week through December 28, partners in our Washington D.C. area stores are writing “Come Together” on customers’ cups.”

This is kind of a nice thought, in the sense that putting a daisy down the barrel of a tank is kind of a nice thought. But it’s asking a lot of the tank.

This effort by Starbucks has already earned richly deserved mockery from the Internet. Numerous baristas aren’t even participating. And, as Suzy Khimm points out, the fiscal cliff isn’t so much a debt crisis as it is an enforced austerity crisis that might actually give us more time before we hit the debt ceiling — but seems likely to trigger another recession.

But let’s just walk through this in an ideal circumstance.

The scene: Starbucks, Capitol Hill.

Enter a beleaguered senator. He requests his usual venti no-whip caramel macchiato. When it comes, he glances down at the side, where someone has illegibly scrawled something. He is not sure what. To his inexpert eye, it appears to be a badly wounded pine cone.

“This isn’t my name,” he says. “Did I take someone else’s?”

“No,” the barista says. “That is ‘Come together.’ For the debt thing.”

“Oh,” he says. He glances at the pine cone again. Suddenly, all becomes clear to him. He dashes back to the Hill and starts grabbing colleagues, left and right. “Come on!” he shouts. “Time to forge consensus! Time to come together!”

“What brought this change over you, sir?” someone asks, as they stare down at the Simple And Logical Solution Based On Mutual Respect And Sacrifice that they have managed to whip up together with minimal froth, like a poorly made cappuccino. “Was it the worried talkers on the news? Was it your constituents, calling to express concern? Was it your general feeling that this would not be a good thing for the country, if we failed to find a resolution?”

“Nothing like that,” the lawmaker says. “It was just something I read on my coffee cup.”

“Ah.”

“I mean, those other things are nice, but until someone writes something on my macchiato, I don’t really have a sense of any urgency.”

If this is what we think of our lawmakers, I am not sure I want them in charge of fixing anything. 

Look, I love Starbucks. I get my coffee from Starbucks. I get the kind of satisfaction from seeing Starbucks spread its caffeinated tentacles across the earth that a believer feels on the erection of a new temple.

As I’ve noted, if Starbucks coffee were a church, I would be high enough up in the ranks of worshippers to be entitled to a strange hat — or at the very least, a gold card.

But this is ridiculous. And they won’t even stop there. No, not only that, but the Patch.com network is encouraging people to “write messages and create drawings on Starbucks cups to express their opinions on significant topics facing our country. We will then send the cups to Washington so that lawmakers can understand how people in communities across the country feel about these issues, and to initiate action.”

Look, as a lifelong devotee of coffee, I can vouch that the least interesting thing about coffee is the cup it comes in. This is like putting Serious Political Messages on the footwear at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It makes you feel good, but who’s looking at it?

Still, don’t rule the coffee out. As we draw closer to the “fiscal cliff” deadline without a resolution, as the Senate wrangles and the House paces impatiently into the wee hours of the night, the only way out may be to apply coffee to the problem.

No matter what it says on the cup.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.