Starbucks may represent an anomaly of ironic global proportions. Here is a politically correct corporation that cares for its employees with health plans and numerous perks, looks out for poor agricultural workers throughout the world and yet has wreaked nutritional warfare on the American public. The other day I was at a Starbucks around 10:30 in the morning when a father came in with his daughter who could not have been more than 6 or 7 years old. He ordered a Venti drip coffee for himself and a Vanilla Creme with extra whipped cream and caramel for his 6 year old daughter. From delivering the best cup of zero calorie coffee the American people had ever tasted, Starbucks has morphed itself into every child’s best friend. You try asking a parent for a milkshake with extra whipped cream and caramel for breakfast. Or better yet, consider how the friendly confines of Starbucks are immensely successful while old staples like Burger King and McDonalds have to offer salads and pedometers to stay afloat. Marketing is the answer, pure and simple.
For reasons known only to the gods of Madison Avenue and their progeny the new gastronomic laws of the marketplace are not affecting Starbucks. Even as orange juice makers have to defend the carbs in their drink an eager public gulps down its double lattes and frappuccinos with syrup and whipped cream. Now, do not get me wrong, but as I slurped up the last of my double chocolate chip Frappuccino, I sat down in one of the purple velvet chairs and picked up a copy of The New York Times. I started to think about the upcoming presidential election in relation to Starbucks-style marketing.
We are going to elect the most powerful man in the world. Put differently, we are going to transform an ordinary human into a force that can effect the way America and the world progress. The presidency is a role that recently has been used to destroy the Taliban base in Afghanistan and overthrow a dictator in Iraq. In the past, presidents have caused the death of tens of thousands, but also saved millions and preserved western civilization. The president has taken the lead in electrifying the Tennessee Valley and transformed an entire rural region of the United States but also sat idly by while a nation goes hungry after an economic collapse that visionaries might have seen coming. This election is serious business, and the American people can not afford to let the same marketing sleight of hand that brought them calorie-loaded milkshakes for breakfast lead them to select a president.
While we sip our lattes and voyeuristically debate whether, on which body part, and how Senator Kerry was shot 30 years ago, or if President Bush can pronounce “nuclear,” it seems the real issues in this campaign have been lost. The War on Terror is a starting point, but who wants to deal with the issue of Arab fundamentalism and western civilization. Is there a heath care debater in the house or someone who will talk honestly about the approaching Social Security and economic impact of the graying of America? Tell me what happened to the Greenhouse Effect and the lack of real political will by either party to come up with a solution?
Isn’t the upcoming election about selecting a leader that can both represent and lead the American people? With both candidates amongst the richest men in America (wives count, Senator Kerry) who really speaks for the middle class? It is time to ask hard questions and demand thorough answers. Marketeers will use misdirection to try to steal our votes. Want an example, start with Starbucks. We make great coffee so have a milkshake while you are here. Let’s not be misdirected; we must ask the hard questions to both Senator Kerry and President Bush.
Senator Kerry, given the paramount importance of education, why give teachers jobs for life (tenure) after only a few years of work? This model does not work with any other civil profession and our educational system has not performed as it should. Clearly teachers’ organizations are, on the whole, backers of the Democratic Party, but, still, tell us your vision.
President Bush, short of divine intervention, technology and science must be man’s answer to the problems of the environment and disease and yet you seem to be holding back stem cell research on religious grounds. Had the Medieval Church had its way with science there would be no western civilization as we know it. Though the Religious Right is in your corner, tell us your vision for the future.
We can go back to Starbucks and marvel at the power of suggestion and marketing. Then we can break through the hype and listen for forthright discussions on taxes, welfare, affirmative action, tort reform, the environment, the role and structure of the U.N., alternative fuels, conservation, gay marriage, and education. Character is a fundamental importance for whoever holds the position of president but so are the positions he holds on the issues that will come up during his term. As we sip on our Starbucks coffee or milkshake and choose the most powerful person on the planet nine weeks from now we must reject marketing. We dare not choose a president the way we do a breakfast drink.
Gene Sussman is a freshman in Morse College.