Letter: Nothing necessarily blue about it

I would like to commend Peter Sack for his column in Friday’s paper (“Don’t politicize coffee,” Feb. 6). While I think Sack goes a little too far by fretting about the possible proliferation of similarly left-leaning businesses around New Haven, I share his concern that a store like Blue State Coffee threatens to “create a community that is unwelcoming to a diversity of opinions.”

But what I find most troubling about Blue State is not its tendency to promote “political polarization,” but rather the implication contained in its name. According to the shop’s Web site, Blue State donates 5 percent of its sales to “progressive” causes and organizations. In the case of the New Haven branch, there are four such groups: Dwight Hall, Yale’s umbrella community-service organization; Cityseed, devoted to promoting sustainable agricultural practices; Shelter Now, which advocates for greater city services to help the homeless; and LEAP, Leadership Education and Athletics in Partnership, an AmeriCorps program that aims to cultivate young leaders who work with children in high-poverty urban areas.

All four are undoubtedly worthy causes, and I am glad Yalies’ caffeine addictions will help further these programs’ goals. But to call these organizations “progressive” in an openly political way — and in explicit contradistinction to the supposed values of “red” America — seems to me problematic. There is nothing “blue” or “progressive” or “liberal” about using private money to support community-service groups or agricultural sustainability, just as there is nothing “red” or “reactionary” or “conservative” about directing private money toward the homeless or at-risk urban youth.

Liberals and conservatives often disagree about the extent to which the government should use taxpayers’ dollars for such causes, but that in no way means conservatives care less than liberals about helping the needy or the less fortunate. In fact, numerous studies — including one cited in a recent New York Times column by liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof (“Bleeding Heart Tightwads,” Dec. 20, 2008 ) — have suggested that “households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals,” in Kristof’s words. The disagreement between liberals and conservatives is about means, not about the importance of doing good works.

On a campus like Yale’s, where some people are already too quick to dismiss conservatives and conservatism as heartless and selfish, Blue State Coffee has done us a public disservice by smugly conflating charity with liberalism, and liberalism alone.

Cullen Macbeth

The writer is a senior in Berkeley College and a former managing editor of the News.

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