About 45 minutes into Howard Schultz's soft-focus press conference at The Moore on Thursday night, Monica Guzman of The Evergrey asked the potential presidential candidate to answer for the fact that he's only voted in 11 of the last 38 elections. "Listen, I travel the world. It’s not an excuse... I’ve not been as engaged locally," he said.
He's right that it's not an excuse. Washington has mail-in ballots. If he wanted to participate in the democratic process, he could have. The only obstacle he had to overcome was his own confidence that any electoral result would have no material effect on his life.
Blaming extensive world travel for not voting was probably the most out-of-touch thing the former Starbucks CEO and current majority shareholder said all evening. But it only barely beat out casual asides such as, "I'm sure that many people have been to Normandy," and practiced-to-death lines like, “The essence of leadership sits on the foundation of the currency of trust."
About an hour before the show, King County Executive Dow Constantine and about 40 protesters from a number of local Indivisible groups had gathered to denounce the coffee mogul's run. The crowd had already dissipated by the time I showed up, but, as I was entering the Moore, a group of men wearing Seattle SuperSonics jerseys offered me a free copy of Sonicsgate, a documentary about Schultz's decision to sell the city's basketball team in 2006. One of the men was Jason Reid, who still seemed pretty raw about the whole deal, despite Schultz's recent public apology.
"I think Schultz running for president is a travesty," Reid said. "He lied to and betrayed the city of Seattle. He sold us out to a group of Oklahoma businessmen who moved the team away. He broke the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people locally. He shouldn't be forgiven. He should be held accountable for the rest of his career."
In the Moore's lobby, three people told me they were afraid of Schultz throwing the election to Trump, but nobody seemed convinced he'd ultimately even make it that far.
During the hourlong conversation with Guzman, Schultz seemed to be acutely aware of both of those sentiments. He spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying to diffuse the negative media explosion blowing up all around his campaign by promising to dip out of the race in spring or summer, provided that "data, polling, and real science" showed he didn't have a path to victory. And then, after attempting to ameliorate any spoiler fears, Schultz implored the audience to imagine a future with an Independent President "for the first time since George Washington."
But Schultz didn't give the crowd much to imagine. He presented himself as a "centrist Independent," a proponent of socially liberal/fiscal conservatism that would fit right in with the ideology of the New House Democrats and the neocons before them. The closest thing he had to a policy proposal was something called "comprehensive tax reform," whatever that means.
Other than that, Schultz employed the whitewashed rhetoric of American exceptionalism. He said he wants us to dream big dreams again, like going to the moon. He wants us to Make America Great Again, but without being so outwardly racist this time.
Instead of really trying to sell that vision, Schultz spent most of the evening pointing out the country's problems without offering any solutions.
His primary concern was the "brokenness" of Washington perpetuated by the "toxicity" of our political discourse. He said he didn't like Donald Trump and the Republicans because their policies were "disastrous," but he couldn't find a place among Democrats because of their "unaffordable" measures. Even if a Democrat could get elected in 2020, Schultz said he had no faith that he or she would be able to end the "toxic" discourse that fuels Washington. But if the American people elected an Independent like him, it would send "a powerful message" to both parties and give Schultz a mandate to get things done. The silent majority—a phrase he uses all the time, a phrase that has always been a racist dogwhistle—will have spoken.
It's perfectly easy to call out the "toxicity" of political discourse and of social media, but the only real example Schultz used to illustrate his point was the fact that people have been "criticizing other people and corporations for being successful." That phenomenon—the public's increasingly visible revulsion to extreme wealth inequality—is the thing that has most affected him. He thinks that everyone is mad at rich people simply because they're jealous of their success, not because rich people—with plenty of help from the Republican and Democratic parties—have been stealing their money for the last several decades.
His constant but totally unconscious regurgitation of this rich-guy cliche is utterly disqualifying. Like so many "centrists," he blames our broken political system on social media and "incivility" because he has no idea why the protester in El Paso is angry. He has no idea why the Trump voter in West Virginia is angry. He has no idea why the freelancer in Seattle is angry. Schultz may have started out life in New York City public housing, but last night he made one thing clear: a couple decades of incredible wealth have insulated him from the fears, passions, and concerns of the people he's earnestly, respectfully, and humbly hoping to serve.
He accuses Democrats and Republicans of engaging in "revenge politics," but he doesn't seem to be aware that his entire reason for this campaign is to seek his own revenge on a "broken" system he doesn't even participate in more than half the time, a system he wants to "disrupt" because Democrats are threatening to take his money to pay for desperately needed services.
Of the eight people I interviewed at The Moore last night, only one person gave me his unreserved endorsement for Schultz. Everyone else I spoke to admitted some moderate interest or openly hostile intent, but Steve Kersch, who said he'd known Schultz for 30 years, called his potential candidacy "a dream come true for America."
"He's so generous, he has so much charisma, and yet he's a serious guy," Kersch added. "He always wants to do the right thing, he always wants to be fair to the rich and the poor. He's for real. That's the kind of president we need," he said.
Right now, the rest of the country does not agree.
How voters view Howard Schultz
Democrats: 4% favorable, 50% unfavorable
Republicans: 4% favorable, 43% unfavorable
Independents: 4% favorable, 31% unfavorable
The margin of error is 2.7%https://t.co/NseZfl6qUE
— Mike Rosenberg (@ByRosenberg) February 2, 2019