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Coffeefiltering the Coffee Party

Yesterday the Facebook News Feed was moderately functional for a change, which is how I discovered the existence of the Coffee Party, which had been Facebook-fanned by several of my Facebook friends and/or stalkers and/or stalkees.

Given that I drink approximately 10 cups of coffee a day, you'd expect that I'd be favorably inclined toward a Coffee Party. And indeed I was, until I read their Mission Statement:

MISSION: The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

1. Americans who want to see cooperation in government.

Indeed we see little cooperation in government these days. Perhaps the Coffeefilters are nostalgic for bipartisan collaborations like the Wall Street Bailouts and the Iraq Resolution, and the Compromise of 1850.

But if you think about it, "cooperation" is not exactly an obvious desideratum. After all, for every Warren G & Nate Dogg there's a Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis. For every David Bowie and Bing Crosby there's a David Bowie and Mick Jagger. For every "The Girl is Mine" there's a "Say Say Say." For every "We Are the World" there's a "We Are the World 25."

I know they probably taught you otherwise in kindergarten, but there's nothing intrinsically good about cooperation. Sometimes people *cough* Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney *cough* are cooperating to screw you.

2. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will

Now, as anyone who's done graduate work in political science knows, it's surprisingly tricky to define "collective will" in a coherent way. Nonetheless, the point here seems to be that most things the government does are things that we all agree upon, like overfunding remote airports named after politicians and holding secret negotiations to strengthen copyright laws and reauthorizing the Patriot Act and keeping marijuana illegal.

See, when the government locked up Japanese citizens during World War II, it wasn't their enemy. When the government let people die of syphilis as part of an experiment, it wasn't their enemy. When the government poisoned alcohol to scare people out of drinking, it wasn't their enemy. It was expressing their collective will. Duh!

3. and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.

Really? I'm only one American, but here's a partial list of the challenges I face:

  • not enough people are buying my book
  • not enough people are writing 5-star reviews of my book
  • love iPhone; hate forced use of iTunes and AT&T
  • cannot fit CrossFit into my current schedule
  • think eggs seem like the ultimate food but hate the taste of them

Now, I've done as much graduate work in political science as the next guy, and I'm pretty unclear as to how participating in the Democratic process is going to help any of these things. (In fact, it's gotten to the point where the people answering the phones at both my Senators' offices recognize me as the "make eggs taste better guy" and refuse to pass on my messages.)

In fact, I'm more inclined toward Reihan Salam's position:

I take solace in the possibility that despite--or perhaps because of--our inability to pass sweeping reform legislation without crafting ugly compromises that buy off those ever-present large and powerful private interests, we're getting better, and faster, at solving the countless small problems that add up to big problems.

Or I guess we could count on our "collective will" and "cooperation" fixing everything, because there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through... Sha la la la.

4. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

And here, at last, is where the Coffeefilters demonstrate that they stand for nothing. Every idea is a "positive solution" to those who support it. Some people think the DMCA was a positive solution. Some people think the Patriot Act was a positive solution.

Politics is full of tradeoffs, and except in the rarest cases every "solution" is a negative for somebody. This is why whenever you look up a law in Wikipedia, you'll usually find a section called "Criticisms," and if you read that section you'll often find descriptions of people who somehow managed to find faults in the "positive" solution.

You may not like the status quo, but you'd have to be pretty naive to think that every departure from it is an improvement and that those who obstruct such departures are necessarily the bad guys.

This is a kindergarten view of the world. This is a kindergarten view of politics. Don't we get enough of that from the parties we have already?

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