September 21, 2010
America needs a coffee party
The political world is all atwitter over the Tea Party movement that is sweeping America. Everywhere you turn, from Alaska to Delaware, it seems another Tea Party candidate is on the rise. What does this mean? So far, most of the analyses have been political: Will the uncompromising Tea Partyers help or hinder the GOP’s chances to retake Congress in the fall? Are they revitalizing or fatally dividing the Republican Party? Can their radicalism end up rescuing the faltering Democrats? And so on.
While those questions are important, there’s one question that’s even more fundamental: What’s good for America? And the answer, it seems to me, is neither the Tea Party nor the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party, but a brand-new kind of party.
Call it the Coffee Party.
Drinking coffee is not the same thing as sipping tea. Tea is for relaxation and laying back. It suggests an attitude of laissez-faire, not active engagement. Tea Partyers may yell a lot, but in fact, their policy prescriptions are very laissez-faire. No matter the problem, they want minimal government. Cut spending. Cut taxes. Cut regulations. Protect us from our enemies, but stay out of our way.
Meanwhile, what have the Democrats been drinking? Extra-large foamy lattes with whipped cream — the kind that make you feel really bloated. Under their watch, America has been on a borrow-and-spend binge that is weighing down our economy with enormous debt while doing little to reverse near-record unemployment. This has created a perfect storm for an “Enough already!” backlash — hence the Tea Party phenomenon, which has tapped into the growing anger at the spending addicts in power.
And what are the Republicans drinking in response to all this? Beer. So much beer, in fact, that they have become drunk, obnoxious and forgetful. They have forgotten, for instance, that they were the original bloated folks who started this whole mess of spending trillions above our means. Now that they see the Democrats making things worse, they’re hoping they can transfer some of that amnesia to the voters and get back in power. They’ve gotten so drunk on this possibility that they’re incapable of cooperating or offering any real solutions.
All of this has gotten me to fantasize about an alternative political party, one named after America’s favorite wake-up drink: coffee.
A few years ago, a study from the University of Queensland in Australia suggested that drinking coffee makes people more open to different points of view. Apparently, coffee makes you more engaged, more alert and thus more open to new ways of thinking. It’s an ideal metaphor, I think, for what our country needs and hasn’t been getting.
Instead of new ways of thinking, we’ve been offered extremes. The Tea Partyers are extreme minimalists, the Latte Democrats are extreme spenders, and the Beer Republicans are extreme naysayers.
A Coffee Party would shun the extremes. Its ideology would be, “Let’s do what works.” It would steal from everyone to find optimal solutions. Branded by the hard-working, no-nonsense symbol of black coffee, the party would roll up its sleeves and work in a nonpartisan way to get the country out of its mess. It would bring passion to reason.
More important, it would treat us like grown-ups. If taxes need to be raised to reduce horrendous deficits, it would tell us. If entitlements need to be reformed to avoid bankrupting future generations, it would tell us that, too. If we could save the country $100 billion a year in health-care costs by reducing cigarette smoking and leading healthier lifestyles, it would call on us to do so. If bloated institutions have to be trimmed and reinvented to make America competitive again and create new jobs, it would make those hard decisions. If we each had to sacrifice a little to make our country more energy independent, it would ask us to step up.
In other words, it wouldn’t be afraid to look America in the eye and tell it like it is. It would tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.
Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think in today’s climate, a “coalition of candid candidates” could catch on. There’s so much revulsion out there with our pandering and failing political class that brutal honesty might be the perfect tonic for our times. When things are falling apart, voters — especially centrist and independent voters — look for competence and real solutions, not empty promises or ideological grandstanding.
Unfortunately, our leaders today are great at haggling over ideology and party politics but terrible at crafting real solutions. Maybe that’s why trust in Congress is at an all-time low. The Tea Party movement may be one big primal scream without serious solutions, but its phenomenal success is a sign that America is desperate for something different.
The Coffee Party — the party of reason, urgency and tough love — can be that something different. It would be as if a bloated and sluggish America hired a personal trainer to whip it into shape. “Hope and change” was a sleeping pill compared to this triple espresso.
I can already see the campaign slogan: “America’s wake-up call.”