Monday, March 15, 2010

Politics: No Money for Coffee

TORONTO, ONTARIO - There's finally a political group in the United States that has as its fundamental principle something I've been saying for years--that the political system is broken and needs to be changed. It actually has more followers on Facebook than the TEA Party. Yet, you've probably never heard of the Coffee Party, and you probably won't hear much about it. While the movement has some other issues, the fundamental reason it will not take off is that no outside money will get behind it.

The Coffee Party's first problem is that it is not about taking a stand on any issues. It's not opposed to any legislation, nor is it pushing any specific legislation. It is explicitly non-ideological. It's about having civil discourse on political issues. That's exactly what isn't happening in the United States, especially at the national level, and probably exactly what needs to happen. But, it's not interesting to the media. There are no soundbites that result. There may never be a coherent and simple message coming out of these discussions. Since the whole idea is to be civil, there won't be anyone yelling or trying to interrupt other political events. As far as the media is concerned, there is nothing that will warrant coverage of anything that the Coffee Party ever does.

All that could be overcome if the Coffee Party could advertise and get its message out through commercial means, instead of free means. They're not going to have the money to do that. No corporation in its right mind would ever donate money to a movement whose outcome is unclear. Even months from now, if some sort of centrist political position comes out out of the Coffee Party that a corporation could support, it will be more financially efficient for them to lobby the two major parties to support that position than to support a grass-roots group with no legislative power. It might be somewhat worthwile from a public relations standpoint, but dollar for dollar, they're better off taking their money elsewhere.

The Coffee Party claims that it doesn't like comparisons with the TEA Party, but they are hard to avoid. The TEA party is angry, perhaps intellectually incoherent and with unclear goals but clearly against health care legislation, economic stimulus legislation, and anti-government. It is full of soundbites, uncivil language and disruptive activities, and thus is a boon to the media that cover it. Because of its known positions that are in alliance with corporate interests, it doesn't even need direct contributions--events can be run in parallel with other organizations, such as conservative think-tanks, that are corporate-funded. Unless subsumed by the Republican Party, which seems the most likely outcome, the TEA Party could continue for a very long time.

While the Coffee Party may have more friends on Facebook, I don't know if more people showed up for coffee parties in the first coordinated meeting day last Saturday than for TEA Party events. The media in the United States largely ignored the event. The Coffee Party itself doesn't seem to know based on a perusal of its web site today. The Coffee Party might be the one party that has something positive to offer to the society at large today, and it is likely to just be ignored like it was on Saturday. Short of radical changes in the role of money in society, I don't see how that changes.

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