The Starbucks leader has many strengths, but Seattle can testify that politics isn't one of them. That's the part where his weakness cost us a city legacy, the Sonics.
Mike Gastineau, the longtime sports radio talker in Seattle, may have come off as a little embittered when he tweeted the following about a certain Starbucks someone running for president:
“If Howard Schultz gets elected president, who will he ultimately sell America to when things get tough?”
Sonics wounds do run deep around here — among a certain set anyway. For those 200,000 of you who are new to town: Schultz, who is retiring from Starbucks this month and appears to be angling to run for the presidency, is notorious in these parts for selling away Seattle’s NBA basketball team to some “proud Okies.” Who, as everyone foresaw except Schultz himself, then hustled the whole kaboodle off to the Great Plains quicker than a Gary Payton-led fast break.
But even if you couldn’t care less about basketball, buried in these bitter memories are crucial and legitimate questions about any Schultz foray into politics.
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One is: Why did he sell away our team, really? Schultz claimed later in a lawsuit that he was hoodwinked — that he genuinely thought the Oklahomans would keep the Sonics in Seattle. If that’s true, the question then is: Do we really want a president who can be rolled so easily?
Because the day the sale was announced, in 2006, a typical headline in The Seattle Times was “Schultz sold out Seattle for $350 million.” So even newspaper columnists could plainly see what was going on! It’s hardly comfort that the latte lord supposedly couldn’t.
Gastineau’s take hints at a more interesting and more likely explanation for what happened. One that says something about Schultz and how he operates. But also about this quixotic thirst American voters have to be saved from icky politics by a swashbuckling business executive.
This theory goes that the real reason Schultz sold out Seattle is because he forgot he was part of a community. He made a straight business calculation. He did then what Amazon is doing now with its threats to jilt Seattle — namely, fixating on the profit-loss ledger, not intangibles like legacy and civic commitment.
That’s just business (as we ruefully ought to know by now). At that time, Schultz had spent 20 years growing a hometown coffee company into a global brand, so he had his eye on horizons far beyond our little fishing village. He was international. So along the way it’s maybe even understandable that he forgot about the local.
Politics, though, is nothing but the local. This is one reason global business executives tend to make terrible politicians.
Government is not in any way like business. It has radically different goals, values and bottom lines. For starters, it needs to expand in bad times and shrink in good, generally the opposite of how businesses react. So why are we obsessed of late with hiring business executives to run government?
Said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley to The New York Times: “The history of business leaders in the White House has not been good — you basically have Herbert Hoover and Donald Trump.”
Yikes. Trump is bloating government spending and the federal deficit at precisely the wrong moment, as the economy is roaring. While Hoover raised taxes to try to square the budget in the teeth of the Great Depression, a historic flub.
Would Schultz do better? I don’t know, but his forays into politics have been marked by the same earnest naiveté he displayed, or at least pretended to display, when he let them spirit away our basketball team.
Like that time he vowed he was going to stop giving all political contributions until warring political factions got real about the national debt. This was a unilateral liberal disarmament, one his own employees refused to go along with. I’m sure it had Republicans, who have proved they don’t care about the debt, quivering in their wing tips.
“He is guileless, and he wears his sincerity on his sleeve,” summed up Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera on Tuesday. “These qualities may make him a decent human being and a charismatic CEO, but he’ll be ripped to shreds if he goes into politics.”
Spot on. To eat the likes of Trump, or whatever’s left of Trump’s administration in 2020, calls for nothing less than a political shark. Not a Seattle lamb who got fleeced by the Okies but good.