So Washington-area Starbucks are putting “Come Together” on their cups for the next few days in support of a deal on “fiscal cliff” issues, with CEO Howard Schultz blogging a can’t-we-all-just-get-along type of explanation on the company’s Web site.
First point: Schultz says “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.” The tone of the post is neutral, but in fact there’s nothing at all politically neutral about a claim that “to fix the national debt” is either “tremendously important” or “time-sensitive.” Beyond that, of course, the particular situation right now is that continued squabbling and inaction is by far the quickest way available to dramatically reduce federal budget deficits.
A second point is that these are tremendously important issues over which political actors — politicians, interest groups, political parties and individual citizens — have strong and legitimate disagreements. I think that a general willingness to compromise is a good thing and necessary for democracy to work in general and particularly for our Madisonian version to work. But the fights, including vicious and intense battles, that precede that compromise are even more necessary. Self-government requires advocacy; bargaining requires at least a bit of brinkmanship from time to time. Even if everyone involved fully accepts the need for cutting a deal at the end of the day, there’s nothing at all wrong with their pretending that they’re willing to risk no deal up to that point.
Third point: All that said, the plain fact of it is 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 as inherently a bad thing. Perhaps pretending otherwise and urging everyone to “come together” is the best remedy for that, but I suspect a better one 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’s an undercurrent of lack of interest in democracy in these types of “neutral” calls for everyone to get along. 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.