Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Jayne: Presidential percolations

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For one reason or another, the prospective presidential bid of former Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz is generating as much buzz as a venti Iced Caffe Mocha.

At least from media types, who are easily distracted by shiny new baubles. It remains unclear whether potential voters will be seduced by the Seattle resident’s claim that he can fix American politics from the outside. In fact, it remains unclear why anybody would believe that we need any outsider to fix American politics, given the kakistocracy that currently rules the White House. (Great word, “kakistocracy”; look it up.)

Yet Schultz says he is considering a run for the presidency as an independent, telling The Seattle Times, “I strongly believe we are living in a time that demands a re-imagining of our current political system.” This has Democrats in apoplexy, out of fear that Schultz could split the anti-Trump vote and result in the president’s re-election. To which Schultz said, “I must be doing something right to garner this much attention and this much interest.”

That might be the most Trumpian statement ever, reflecting a world in which attention and interest equate success — regardless of how much failure is involved.

Before we go much further, it’s time for a bold prediction: Trump will not run for re-election. That’s just a hunch; or, perhaps, wishful thinking. But it would not be surprising if he declares “victory” and claims to have already been the most bigly president ever and decides not to run.

That, however, is a discussion for another time. For now, we are fascinated by the absurd notion that somebody who has no political experience can effectively oversee a $4 trillion annual budget and departments that employ 2 million workers. That somebody who rarely votes — Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times reports that Schultz has cast a ballot in 11 of the past 38 elections — has enough interest in governance to effectively thrust and parry against congressional leaders. That somebody who has successfully run a business is uniquely suited for the give-and-take required by politics.

A year ago, when Oprah Winfrey was inexplicably being mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, I wrote: “It doesn’t seem sensible to call your mechanic if your gout is acting up, or your stockbroker to fix your water heater, or the barista at the coffee shop for financial tips. There is something to be said for experience and expertise, the kind that results in solutions rather simplistic tropes. Yet, for some reason, Americans cling to the notion that hiring an outsider is the best approach for choosing a president.”

Politically, there is nothing particularly new about this; six of the past seven presidential elections have been won by the candidate with less experience. But in recent years this trend has been exacerbated by the growth of celebrity culture — a culture in which name recognition trumps ability and insight and intellectual curiosity. Americans have come to believe that fame alone is a qualification for the most important job in the country.

If success in one field made for a worthy presidential candidate, we would elect Jeff Bezos and be done with it; but being president requires different skills than running a business. Successful business leaders are not accustomed to the kind of opposition they find in politics. For a CEO, power is defined by whose name is on the door; for a president, there are coequal branches of government, and the people in charge of them don’t have to listen to you. Even Trump’s most ardent supporters would have to admit that the sharing of power brings out his inner toddler.

In terms of demeanor, Schultz isn’t Trump; goodness knows, nobody is. But the past two years should lead us to reflexively reject the notion of a celebrity president or the thought that business is a training ground for the presidency.

Alas, such an epiphany is unlikely. Which calls to mind a quote from Joseph de Maistre, who two centuries ago envisioned modern-day America and said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

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