Is Starbucks A Cult?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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“Room for smarm in your latte?” Isn’t there something creepy about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz having  [in Politico‘s words] “asked his Washington-area employees to write ‘Come Together’ on each customer cup today, tomorrow and Friday, as a gesture to urge leaders to resolve the fiscal cliff”? Did Schultz take a poll of his employees–sorry, “partners,” he calls them–before ordering pressuring asking them to join in this lobbying effort? What if he were, say, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and he “asked” his “partners” to write “Preserve the Family” on the outside of cups and containers?

But this is a bland, uplifting message, you say, like “peace” and “love.” Not that bland. Schultz says he’s moved to act because

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

“Fixing the debt” is hardly an uncontroversial imperative. There are, for example, economists who object to the “austerity” it requires. (Schultz could order baristas to write “F–k Krugman” on their cups–now that might have some impact.) There are also activists on both sides who argue, with varying degrees of sincerity, that going over the “fiscal cliff”– the “time-sensitive” part Schultz mentions– is better than “coming together” on one of the deals that’s being talked about. There are even those who note that going over the cliff is a way to “fix the debt,” since the “cliff” is made up of tax increases and spending cuts.

I’m not saying what Schultz did is or should be illegal, certainly not in a Citizen’s United world. If he wants to run a hybrid coffee-shop-political-organization, that’s fine with me. But maybe he should have made that clear to his workers when they signed up.  There’s a good vegan restaurant chain in L.A. that’s run by what seems to be a cult of sorts–they offer little uplifting messages, and the dishes have names like “I Am Awesome.” Presumably their cooks and servers knew what they were getting into. Similarly, Schultz notes that

our[**] friends at AOL and Patch who are joining us in activating their hyper-local network of websites to share the “Come Together” message

which is also fine, because if you go to work for a HuffPo outfit like AOL or Patch, that’s the sort of thing you’d expect. But Starbucks? Maybe Schultz’s baristas came for the (admirable) health benefits, not because they wanted to join him in some mushy Tom Brokawish corporate budget crusade.

There’s always Caribou Coffee.


**–Droit de CEO: The corporate royal plural (“our”) is one of the creepier things in Schultz’s letter.  Is he really speaking for everyone at Starbucks on this political matter? Or has he gone mad with New Age power? (‘And it will be written on the outside, so we can check.’)

Mickey Kaus