NOVEMBER 20, 2006
Everyone knows that liberals love Starbucks. A 2005 Zogby poll found that partisans of the left were twice as likely to go to the world music-playing, fair trade- embracing, Seattle-based coffee chain as they were to patronize Dunkin' Donuts—a well-known peddler of red-state values. No surprise that Bill O'Reilly has declared that he "will not go in a Starbucks," preferring, according to Newsweek, "a coffee shop in Manhasset, Long Island, where cops and firemen hang out."
So what is Jonah Goldberg, the unflappably chummy editor-at-large of National Review, doing in not just one but thousands of Starbucks coffeehouses across the land? Goldberg's own magazine has lumped Starbucks-goers in with those moon bats who "speak French, allow Janet Jackson to show both her breasts, create a cradle-to-grave welfare state … read The New York Times every day, scramble the satellite signal for Fox News, and worship [their] new leader, Michael Moore." But walk into any Starbucks, and there he is: Jonah Goldberg, on the side of a Starbucks coffee cup. Each white-and-green paper cup comes complete with a celebrity quote, and, on no less than five million of them, you can read Goldberg sound off on the "unthinking mobs of 'independent thinkers'" hammering those "who dare question 'enlightened' dogma."
And Goldberg isn't alone. Spend enough time in Starbucks and you'll see cups with quotes from former Bush speechwriter David "Axis of Evil" Frum ("In politics, partisanship is a force that can make things happen"); right-wing radio chatterbox and Passion of the Christ groupie Michael Medved ("The biggest problem with mass media isn't low quality--it's high quantity"); and Discovery Institute bioethicist Wesley J. Smith ("The morality of the 21st Century will depend on how we respond to this simple but profound question: Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?").You can even sip a purpose-driven latte with words from evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren ("You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense"). All of which raises the question: After spending so much time bashing the blue-state hordes at Starbucks, how did conservatives end up on their cups?
IN EARLY 2005, the higher-ups at Starbucks decided, in an effort to "get people talking," to start printing quotes on every cup the company produced. The series, affectionately dubbed "The Way I See It," grew out of an appreciation for what p.r. manager Carole Pucik calls the "centuries-old tradition of the coffeehouse as a place to gather, share ideas, and enjoy delicious beverages." And it was with that rich, flavorful history in mind that the company started offering various "notable people" the chance to crystallize, without payment, a lifetime of wisdom onto a three-inch square of paper.
Of course, no one would ever confuse Starbucks with an eighteenth-century Parisian salon: The overwhelmingly sappy quotes range from the mildly annoying (Goldie Hawn: "Searching for more joy is not a frivolous pursuit") to the completely unintelligible (Roger Ebert: "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it"). But, since bleary-eyed caffeine addicts aren't necessarily deep thinkers, the series got off the ground. There were just two problems. The first was that there were no conservatives: The initial contributors included the likes of Al Franken and environmentalist Denis Hayes, but only one right-winger—Jonah Goldberg. The second problem was Armistead Maupin, the openly gay novelist and chronicler of '70s and '80s San Francisco. When he was offered a place in the series, he didn't hold back. "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long," reads Maupin's cup. "I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short."
Whether Maupin's coffee-cup confessional inspired any chai tea latte-drinkers to come out of the closet may never be known. What is known is that Concerned Women for America (CWA), a Christian organization that prides itself on bringing "biblical principles into all levels of public policy," saw in Maupin's cup the ominous advance of the homosexual agenda. STARBUCKS FUND AND PROMOTES HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVISM, declared a CWA press release after the offending cup hit shelves. A testimonial, from one Meghan Kleppinger, soon followed: "I stepped away from my latte, faced my denial about this company, and started to do some serious soul searching." Baylor University, the world's largest Baptist school, banned the offending cup from campus. And The Washington Times's Tom Purcell, after meditating on the lack of conservative quotes, grumbled that "you can't avoid politics anywhere these days, even while sipping your morning brew."
But the conservatives didn't really want to end coffeehouse politics: They wanted cups of their own. So, when Starbucks started trolling around for contributors to the next installment of the series—even though "there was a sense," says Goldberg, "that the few conservatives were being used as fig leaves for a lot of liberal cups"—the conservatives couldn't hop on the bandwagon fast enough. "Coffee is such an important part of my life that I could not say no," says a dangerously caffeine-addicted Frum.
The result: As the series expanded, so did the conservative presence. And, while the company would never admit that it's doing diversity outreach, it drops all the right code words. It seeks, according to Pucik, a "balance of viewpoints and experiences when evaluating contributions to the program." The contributors "include a wide range of people with varying points of view, experiences, and priorities." And so on. As Goldberg puts it, you would think you had stumbled into an admissions department meeting at Brown.
THIS IS, to put too fine a point on it, pretty moronic stuff. First, no one could pick—armed with a lawyer and a set of David Horowitz talking points--a more frivolous arena in which to obsess over questions of diversity and fairness. And, despite its obvious passion for inclusiveness, the company seems to have struck out on some slow-moving diversity softballs: Of the 189 contributors that Pucik made available, 129 are men. (Concerned Women for America does not seem terribly concerned about that.) But perhaps what the conservative cups illustrate, even more than diversity, is the conservative mindset: The right may thumb its nose at liberal culture, but it really wants to be invited in. That's too bad, because, prior to scrambling their way onto the cups, the conservatives actually had a decent point. There's something to be said for a place free of politics and diversity picks. Coffee doesn't need a Clarence Thomas. It just needs to be reasonably priced, consistently drinkable, and only mildly in the thrall of the homosexual agenda.