Friday, March 21, 2008

Coffee with Barack, Hillary and John

“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st- century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it.” Chip Giller, founder,, for the environmentally concerned.

“You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people, if you don’t serve the people.” Cornel West, professor, Princeton University

“The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.” David Copperfield, Emmy-Award winning illusionist.

“When I wake up in the morning, I want to know that my family, friends and fans know what I believe in and what I’m all about. That’s what should be important.” Robert Randolph, Musician, music heard on XM Satellite Radio Channel 75

“Can I just get a damn cup of coffee – fast?” Doug Page, blogger.

If you’re a Barack Obama voter, those phrases from the back of Starbucks’ coffee cups are more than just quotations. They’re Scripture. Those passages move you to action, define you as a person, tell you how to live, what to consume and influence your vote. You’re an “aspirational” consumer, marketers say.

If you’re Hillary Clinton voter, however, the highlight of your day just might be a Dunkin Donuts cup of Joe with a cholesterol-laden doughnut. Your values were determined by what you read in your newspaper, saw on television, heard on the radio and the amount of money in your checkbook.

Hillary voters don’t need no stinkin’ philosophy, especially if it’s on a coffee cup. They’re lunch-pail Democrats, whose outlook was formed by the University of Real Life, the School of Hard Knocks.

That’s the word from Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, who observes the United States first hand. A British citizen, Baker comes as close as anyone lately to being a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, that famous Frenchman who witnessed and wrote about Americans during the 19th century.

“Mr. Obama’s supporters are the latte liberals. These are the people for whom Starbucks, with its $5 cups of coffee and fancy bakeries, is not just a consumer choice but a lifestyle. They not only have the money. They share the values,” wrote Baker after February’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

“They live by all those little quotes on the side of Starbucks cups,” Baker said.

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, “is the candidate of what might be called Dunkin Donut Democrats. They do not have the money to waste on multiple-hyphenated coffee drinks – double-top, no-foam, non-fat lattes and the like … They are the .75-cent coffee and doughnut crowd,” Baker said.

So, in an attempt to confirm Baker’s point – not that I have any reason to doubt him – your correspondent spoke to the public relations people at both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

Here’s what they said:

The phrases were placed on the coffee cups to spark a conversation, said the Starbucks spokeswoman. Starbucks sees itself, in the United States at least, as offering up the American version of an Italian café, where people gather to drink coffee and pontificate about life.

While an interesting an idea, I’ve never once seen a Starbucks consumer read those quotations and use it as a means to strike up a conversation, either with someone they know or don’t know. So Starbucks notion that someone will use these quotes to start up a conversation seems, at the very least, presumptuous.

“We have accepted submissions from very different kinds of people with varying points of view,” she said. In other words, left-wing and right-wing extremists have an equal shot (no pun intended) of having their words published on a Starbucks cup.

Anyone can submit their words of wisdom for consideration on a Starbucks cup by going to and then clicking on the way i see it on the left side of the page.

Under no circumstance – this is important for you Hillary voters to understand – is Starbucks sending our messages, through its coffee cups, suggesting that Democrats vote for the junior Senator who’s successfully winning the latte vote. He’s doing that all by himself, thank you.

Starbucks would not release details on how many submissions they’ve received; the spokeswoman said that each submission is reviewed by a committee. She would not say who sits on the committee or the criteria used to judge which submissions are printed or discarded.

At Dunkin Donuts, they see themselves very differently from Seattle's coffee behemoth and, possibly to Starbucks detriment, they’ve got their coffee competitor figured out.

“We’re not an aspirational brand,” said their spokeswoman. “We serve great coffee to be consumed wherever our consumers wish to drink it.

“People come into our stores, get their coffee and doughnut and then go to work,” she said. “They don’t have time to hang out and talk, which is why our stores are usually empty.”

Indeed, in a quick drive around Chicago’s western suburbs, Starbucks cafés were filled with patrons while the Dunkin Donuts stores had, at the most, one person sitting in them.

Sixty percent of all Dunkin Donuts revenue comes from coffee sales, the spokeswoman said, making coffee a high priority for them. She wouldn’t release revenue figures because the company is privately held.

Dunkin Donuts has no plans, the spokeswoman said, to print quotations on the side of their coffee cups.

So what are we to make out of all this coffee stuff? Are Barack voters the only ones who are aspirational? Are Hillary’s voters only pedestrian? What kind of coffee do Republicans drink?

I wish I had the answers but calls placed to the Obama, Clinton and John McCain presidential campaigns on their candidates’ coffee preferences went unreturned. I have noticed, in some of the television coverage, that Senators Clinton and McCain appear to drink Starbucks coffee. At least they’re holding Starbucks cups. I’m unable to confirm what’s in them. So far, I’ve not seen a Starbucks cup in the hands of Sen. Obama. (Perhaps he’s a closeted Starbucks drinker – just like he’s a closeted smoker.)

What does all this mean?

People running for president of the United States are aspirational – regardless of their coffee or their party affiliation. They believe they’re a force for positive change. And it’s my guess that many of their most enthusiastic supporters are equally aspirational – regardless of their coffee and how they take it.

Editor’s Note: Yours truly grew up in a day and age in journalism when it was considered inappropriate not to identify sources – unless of course there was some specific reason that required someone to go unidentified. In this particular article, I’m not naming the spokeswomen because they asked to remain unnamed.

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