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Coffee Summits, not Coffee Parties

By now you’ve probably heard about the Coffee Party.

The Coffee Party: Drink more caffeine to be half as angry and twice as ineffectual as the Tea Party.

The Coffee Party bills itself as a spontaneous grassroots alternative to the tea party, one not tied to any hyper-partisan or corporate agenda. In actuality, it behaves more like an unofficial extension of the Obama permanent campaign. The only call to actual “action” seems to be for the Waiting-on-the-World-to-Change Generation to lament over lattes, sharing their exasperation at how the unwashed masses have been astroturfed to obstruct poor President Obama from carrying out his noble vision of bipartisan, pluralist kumbayah.

From CNN:

Meet these members of the Coffee Party Movement, an organically grown, freshly brewed push that’s marking its official kickoff Saturday. Across the country, even around the globe, they and other Americans in at least several hundred communities are expected to gather in coffeehouses to raise their mugs of java to something new.

They’re professionals, musicians and housewives. They’re frustrated liberal activists, disheartened conservatives and political newborns. They’re young and old, rich and poor, black, white and all shades of other.

Born on Facebook just six weeks ago, the group boasts more than 110,000 fans, as of Friday morning. The Coffee Party is billed by many as an answer to the Tea Party (more than 1,000 fewer fans), a year-old protest movement that’s steeped in fiscal conservatism and boiling-hot, anti-tax rhetoric.

This new group calls for civility, objects to obstructionism and demands that politicians be held accountable to the people who put them in office.

The New York Times ran an earlier fluff piece about the Coffee Party last week:

Eileen Cabiling, who founded the Los Angeles chapter, said she had campaigned for President Obama, but paid little attention to politics until the Tea Party convention and Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speech, where he rebuked Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike for their inability to move on legislation.

“I had withdrawn in campaign fatigue,” Ms. Cabiling said. “I was like, what happened?”

[…]

“This is about recognizing that the government represents us,” Ms. Cabiling said, “so we need to step to the plate and start having a voice and start acting like bosses.”

This sounds like 2008 all over again. In other words, they are the ones they have been brewing for.

Recognizing that “the government is us” is instructive, but somehow Ms. Cabiling’s comments remind me less of returning government to We-the-People and more of the creative classs self-indulgence that leads to declarations such as “Out with Bubbas, Up with Creatives.”

What seems to drive today’s progressives is where they perceive themselves in relation to the Bubbas. In Obama, the creative class saw an opportunity to be the bosses–many declaring in 2008 that for the first time they felt engaged in the political process. Once Obama won the election, their motivation was gone. They were now the bosses they had waited for, or so they thought. Politics became boring again, onto the next reality show. Obama’s lack of leadership and his continuation of Bush policies were not enough to get his supporters out of their “campaign fatigue.” It took the tea party’s opposition to Obama to get the Obama partisans to realize that they were not quite as in control of the situation as they thought they were. Now they want to “wake up and stand up” just enough to regain their perception of themselves as bosses. Demanding for accountability of our elected officials seems to be an afterthought.

Even if it is not a propaganda arm or a gimmick, the coffee party is a response to the Tea Party, and therein lies the problem.

In terms of where we as liberals need to be focusing our response, the Tea Party is neither here nor there.

Jumper Cables = Critical Thinking

The Tea Party isn’t the one who claimed to be a proponent of single-payer universal healthcare in 2003…

…then campaigned for a public option and against a mandate in 2008…

…only to assume the American presidency and reverse his already half-baked recipe into the ultimate shit sandwich–a mandate without a public option.

It wasn’t the Tea Party protests that brought the public option down, either. The public option has remained popular, if vaguely defined, among voters.

The Tea Party is beside the point.

Bill Clinton nailed it not too long ago when he was campaigning for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts:

You need to take that tea party label back. (Applause and cheers) The tea party–(Applause continues)–you know all this tea party protest, the whole idea behind it is that government is inherently corrupt and bad and confused, right–and, the Boston Tea Party was a revolt against government. That is not true–the Boston Tea Party was a revolt against abuse of power–taxation without representation, taking the autonomy away from the Massachusetts Bay Company and the local governments. You had a very vigorous government at the time of the Boston Tea Party. The people believed in it, they participated in it, and they thought the purpose of the government was to advance the common good. –Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton has a knack for getting to the heart of the matter. (Ironically, Martha Coakley lost because she was unable to fight the abuse of power within her own party.)

Neither the Tea Party nor the Coffee Party are responding to the root issue. The Tea Party is a vehicle for absorbing catch-all populist anger into the GOP brand. The coffee response to the tea party is likewise a vehicle for preserving the Obama brand. Neither “party” has a larger purpose other than keeping each side involved in an imaginary contest where each tribe wants to be the boss of the other tribe. When you take away the superficial rhetoric about the role of government on both sides, what remains are taunts that either you’re a socialist or you’re a teabagger. These faux movements exploit real voter backlash at Washington and serve to keep the electorate divided and busy bashing each other at the rank-and-file level rather than collectively pushing back on the oligarchy.

What is missing right now is a mobilized response not to each other but to abuse of power, specifically a response in the form of advocacy for the working/middle class. I’m often reminded of FDR’s economic bill of rights:

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security.

I’m also reminded of this clip from Meet the Press:

SEC’Y CLINTON: Well, I absolutely would look forward to having coffee. I’ve never met her.

[…]

But, you know, I’m ready to have a cup of coffee. Maybe I can make a case on some of the issues that we disagree on.

MR. GREGORY: So maybe there’s a summit meeting here.

Tea and Coffee parties are echo chambers.

What we really need are more coffee summits, so to speak, where competing ideas are put forward as to how we can turn FDR’s economic bill of rights into a reality.

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