The Repugnancy of Howard Schultz

Photo: Entreprenic

Photo: Entreprenic

Madoc Kimball, Staff Writer

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“I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.”

You’ve heard it before, and it’s something you probably didn’t give much thought to. Chances are, you might apply that label to yourself. It sounds right in theory – people should be free to make choices about their bodies, interests, and so forth. So too should the government be frugal, modest, and transparent with its spending. On paper, ‘liberal’ social policy and ‘conservative’ economic policy is attractive to a lot of people. In the very least, what kind of absolute monster, for instance, would call themselves not only a social conservative that opposes people’s personal and private freedoms, but also a fiscal liberal that supports a government who spends in wanton excess? A small, modest government under which people are free to do what they want so long as they respect the laws certainly sounds like an ideal state.

However, this sort of meaningless jargon belies semantic errors within the assumptions they propagate. A lot of the time, the phrase is nothing more than a safety blanket utilized to vest in oneself a sense of enlightened bipartisanship or maladjusted libertarian slant. It should be clear that ‘social issues’ is often a much more nebulous term than that which is purely ‘fiscal’ or ‘economic’. The Democratic Party, for instance, which supports progressive modern liberalism, advocates for things like the rights of sexual and ethnic minorities and for a woman’s right to an abortion. The Libertarian Party, meanwhile, is an advocate for classical liberalism, which includes stances that modern Democrats wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to support, such as the decriminalization of recreational drug use and strong gun ownership rights for American citizens. As an American citizen, you have what are known as ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ rights. Negative rights are things that the government simply allows for, which require no interference. If you would like to smoke pot with your same-sex significant other while typing up hate speech online, those are your negative rights to do so. Positive rights are a little more tricky. These do require government interference – things like anti-discrimination laws, education spending, and welfare programs. All of them require a robust liberal fiscal policy buoyed by increased taxes (increased revenue) to power government agencies and programs.

Herein lies the crux of the argument: a social liberal, fiscal conservative doesn’t truly stand for anything but themself. They support the predicament of the unfortunate, but they aren’t willing to necessarily take tangible action to rectify the flaws of society beyond a handful of civil liberty laws. If you’re for racial equality, for protecting the environment, for access to education and healthcare, how do you propose to solve these issues? Right wing politicians who espouse small government and fiscal conservatism cut taxes and slash government programs to pursue their agenda of a small government. However, this almost always results in decreased revenue and rapidly inflating debt – which in turn leads to decreased funding for initiatives within sectors such as welfare, health, environment, education, and transportation. The invisible hand won’t save society, and it won’t propel social justice – liberal fiscal policy will. However, whether or not you agree with whether that’s an effective way to govern society depends on if you’d call yourself a Democrat or a Republican, but the point still stands: social liberals, fiscal conservatives are not only oxymoronic, but they aren’t really conducive to meaningful discourse on how to govern effectively either. Is it possible to be a SLFC in the aforementioned ‘classical liberal’ sense espoused by libertarians? Sort of, but that results in a society plagued by stagnation and in which personal liberties and egalitarianism will grow less prevalent overtime without enforcement by a strong government. There’s no reasonable way to separate fiscal and social policy, and to attempt to do so is not only foolish and ignorant but also a callous example of cognitive dissonance. It’s the much worse version of calling yourself ‘spiritual but not religious’ – another way to say that you feel personally more enlightened than everyone else in a nonspecific, transcendent sort of way. It’s laughable.

Here’s where we arrive at Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and now potential 2020 contender. He’s a self described ‘social liberal deficit hawk’ who despises Trump but thinks the Democrats are equally disillusioned, who equated Trump’s border wall with Medicare-for-all. He’s calling himself the first ‘legitimate’ independent third party candidate who is qualified due to his ‘life experience’, who appeals to a ‘silent majority’ of around 40% of Americans that identify as independent (a false statistic). Despite being being openly left-leaning on a variety of issues who considered running as a Democrat in 2016, he has renounced all ties with the party, citing that is has flown ‘too far left’ in recent years. He’s faced significant criticism from the left, who are fearful he will run as a spoiler in 2020 and improve Trump’s chances to win against a presumably progressive Democratic candidate that splits the vote with the more center-left Schultz. Opinions on the right have remained mostly indifferent, aside from one notable individual – the President himself, reportedly. After an interview on 60 Minutes by his fellow CEO billionaire, the Commander-in-Chief took to Twitter in routine fashion to blast Schultz, calling him gutless and unintelligent. According to a reporter from the New York Times, Trump told a crowd at his International Hotel that he intended to goad Schultz into the race with that tweet, hopeful that an independent spoiler candidate will improve his already faltering chances of reelection.

Ever since his announcement on 60 Minutes that he’s considering a run in 2020 as a ‘centrist independent’ candidate, Schultz has done more than his fair share of vapid hand-wringing on TV, bemoaning how left the Democratic Party has gone and insisting in his own evidently lacking appeal to Americans seeking an alternate option. He particularly bristles at the idea of vastly increased taxes on wealthy Americans proposed first by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and later taken up by party powerhouses like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, which, considering his $3.4 billion net worth, is a telling component to his otherwise thus far formless and insipid political positioning. He’s also against Medicare-for-all and tuition-free college education, which has been adopted by many prominent Democratic candidates as of late. In this way, Schultz is the perfect candidate for any SLFC looking to stick it to both Trump and the Democratic left. He checks certain boxes for a center-left voter, but leaves everything else blank, vaguely promising to promote unity, rein in spending, and keep taxes low like a proper fiscal conservative. He’s already faced lots of criticism for ‘cheating’ his way past the Democratic primary season by funding himself independently and refusing to adhere to any extant third party. It’s pretty clear from what little we can glean about Schultz that he wouldn’t make it very far in a Democratic primary in the first place, and so this criticism is more than valid – it reveals exactly the sort of candidate, and by extension man, he really is.

Schultz is a particularly repugnant type of candidate, especially in the era of President Trump. He’s a creature in the same mold President himself, a purported self-made billionaire from Brooklyn whose only credentials are his own sense of self-righteousness and a vague promise to fix the country with his equally dubious business savvy. He’s also a man who knows that his scant platform, at once both shaky yet uncompromising, misguided yet insistent, isn’t competitive in either party at a time when polarization is at an all-time high. Remember when I said that his claim that 40% of Americans identify as independents is false? It’s true that there’s a good chunk of the electorate that aren’t registered to a specific party. But it’s also true that almost all of these unaffiliated voters also indicate that they lean to one side or the other, and this lean has only steepened over the last ten years since Obama was first elected. In order to succeed, Schultz would need to be especially charismatic, eloquent, and persuasive to appeal to moderate Republicans and Democrats alike that don’t much care for Trump or a progressive Democrat. Anyone that has watched the man speak on TV could tell you that this most likely won’t be the case. He’s the perfect avatar for the social liberal, fiscal conservative: they talk a lot of talk, but at the end of the day, they’re not the best avenues for actual progress towards a just and egalitarian society. Proselytizing on the importance of modern liberalism within a government that constricts its own revenue streams and refuses to take action on issues that matter should be laughable to people on both the left, and the right. If you can’t stand for anything, then you shouldn’t expect others to stand with you, and that’s just my cup of tea, Mr. Schultz.

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