vision 2020

Howard Schultz 2020: What If a Moderate Democrat But Vaguer?

No he can’t. Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Howard Schultz says that America’s two-party system is “broken,” that our political leaders have been putting “revenge politics” above problem-solving, and now, “our representative democracy doesn’t represent us anymore.”

In his view, no ordinary politician can meet this moment’s extraordinary challenges. What’s needed is an outsider who can step up and offer America’s silent majority the kind of leader they’ve been longing for: an independent who occupies the middle ground between Chuck Schumer and Chuck Schumer’s Wall Street donors.

Or at least, this is appears to be Schultz’s view, judging by his CNN town hall Tuesday night.

It’s hardly news that the Starbucks billionaire’s nascent, third-party presidential campaign is powered by pompous delusions and hoarded wealth. But the Olympian scale of Schultz’s arrogance — and of his campaign’s pointlessness — did not come into full view until he took the stage in Houston last night.

The mogul has been exploring a presidential run for nearly a month now. He has had time to turn his armchair intuitions about policy into detailed proposals. And given that he is asking the American people to make him their president — without first seeing how he performs in a lesser political office — one might think that he’d feel compelled to put forward a clear and singular legislative vision. After all, if voters can’t judge him on the basis of his governing experience, or policy agenda, what are they supposed to judge him on? What would Schultz have said to someone applying for an executive position at his company, who had neither relevant experience for the position nor detailed thoughts about what he wished to accomplish in it?

Nevertheless, the billionaire felt no obligation to put bones and sinew on his skeletal agenda before appearing on CNN Tuesday night. Instead, given a free, prime-time platform to make the case for his candidacy, Schultz revealed that his innovative vision for the U.S. is just a combination of bog-standard (moderate) Democratic positions, empty platitudes, and Trumpian appeals to his own supernatural “leadership” skills.

Here’s CNN’s summary of Schultz’s remarks on health-care policy:

Howard Schultz says he believes there is something deeply wrong with the American healthcare system.

… “I think everyone in America, every person, deserves to have the right for affordable care. Every person,” he declared — the first of his “three principles” on the issue.

The second: “There needs to be competition in the system and what I mean that is competition so that the American people can get access to prescription drugs at lower prices,” Schultz said, “because right now the government is not allowed, under a federal law, to negotiate with (pharmaceutical companies).”

The third principle echoed musings familiar from President Donald Trump’s own statements in the past: a potential plan to change the rules governing how and where insurance companies sell their plans.

When Harlow pressed him for details on the way he would solve these problems — “How? The question is how?” — Schultz returned to speaking about prescription drug pricing.

So: Schultz’s big, “neither right nor left” ideas for health care are:

A summary of a long-standing Democratic proposal — which Senate Democrats are currently pushing legislation on — to allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma over drug prices.

A restatement of Donald Trump’s plan to expand insurers’ ability to sell insurance across state lines, an idea that has failed to deliver lower prices in the regions where it’s been tried, and which would likely produce a race to the regulatory bottom — and is thus rejected by most health-care policy experts.

A promise to make health care affordable for every single American — which is to say, to extend insurance to the nearly 30 million people who currently lack it, and drastically reduce costs for the one in four Americans who currently forgo necessary medical care because even with insurance they cannot afford it — without increasing the deficit, significantly raising taxes, or disrupting the private insurance market. (Schultz feels no obligation to specify how he would do this.)

This is indicative of Schultz’s broader program. For all his bluster about the Democratic Party’s unrealistic promises — and the left’s refusal to recognize the necessity of legislative compromise — Schultz offered CNN’s audience virtually nothing beyond unrealistic promises and statements that betrayed an ostensible ignorance of the necessity of legislative compromise. On the latter count: Any political observer with a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Senate would know that, if a voter wants incremental improvements to the health-care system — but not Medicare for All — they will (almost certainly) get what they’re looking for from any Democratic nominee; even president Bernie Sanders will not be able to pass any legislation without the approval of red-state Democrats like Jon Tester and Kyrsten Sinema. Which is to say, to the extent that Schultz is proposing concrete policies, they are just less-detailed versions of the Democratic Party’s consensus positions.

Take his comments on gun safety Tuesday night:

I have a hard time understanding why people need to carry carry an AR-15 around the streets where they live. It is hard for me to understand that. I respect the issues of sportsman and hunting and all things that go with gun ownership. Anyone who has a criminal record or mental health problems, there needs to be a lot more jurisdiction on how those people are buying those weapons. We should take a look at this. Now the far right once again does not want to do anything in the issue. The far left wants to do everything possible to remove guns completely. I am in the middle.

To my knowledge, there is not a single Democratic senator who has called for the repeal of the Second Amendment, and/or doing “everything possible to remove guns completely.” Schultz’s position — that AR-15s should be banned, and universal background checks required — is the Democratic Party’s. Or, more precisely: It’s the median Democrats’ position, and may thus be too left wing to earn the unanimous support of Chuck Schumer’s caucus.

On tax policy, Schultz graciously conceded that billionaires like himself should be paying more to Uncle Sam each year — but refused to specify precisely how much more, beyond reiterating that he believes that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to bring back Carter-era top marginal rates is unconscionably “punitive.” On climate, Schultz called the Green New Deal unrealistic and morally odious, saying, “I think it is immoral to suggest that we can tally up 20, 30, 40, 50 trillion in debt to solve a problem that can be solved in a different way.”

Schultz did not say what this “different way” was.

In sum, given the opportunity to air a free, prime-time infomercial for his candidacy on national television, Schultz effectively pitched himself as Tim Kaine, but without all the policy knowledge, governing experience, humility, candor, or raw sexual charisma.

Howard Schultz 2020: What If a Moderate Democrat But Vaguer?