A few years ago Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, spoke to a group of Democratic Senators at a luncheon on Capitol Hill. His speech was about how his upbringing and values shaped his views on business.
Raised in a modest home in Brooklyn, Schultz attended public schools. Like many kids in his neighborhood he was the first in his family to go to college. He told the story about how he led Starbucks from a small coffee company to an international mega-brand. But the most powerful part of his speech focused on his father, a man forced into early retirement without the protection of health insurance. Watching his father worry over the loss of health insurance and his financial vulnerability, Howard Schultz learned a life lesson. And when the time came, he made sure that his employees wouldn't have to suffer the way his father did. He covered their health care costs. While that cost was substantial, he believed it was the right thing to do.
I've often thought that while his coffee is too expensive, at least Schultz is treating his employees in a caring and compassionate way. And when it came time to vote for the Health Care Reform Act, Howard Schultz's story and hundreds just like it convinced me that every American deserves the peace of mind that health care coverage brings.
Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court's decision to uphold "Obamacare", the health care reforms Congress passed to extend coverage to over 30 million uninsured, sparked a national debate about how we care for people like Howard Schultz's father. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, minced no words: if elected President, his first act would be to repeal this law extending health insurance protection. Last week, the Republican controlled House of Representatives took their 33rd repeal vote since 2011.
So, with an attack on health coming from all sides, where does the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz stand? Sadly, on the sidelines.
As a matter of principle he is sitting out this election. In an open letter to America before announcing a free cup of coffee on July 4th, Howard Schultz said, "In 2012, America needs to win the election more than either party does. "
In a political era when seventeen billionaires are creating Super PACs to own the airwaves and a corporate-sponsored lobby group is forcing changes in state law to suppress the vote of minorities, the elderly and poor, Howard's neutrality is like a skim milk decaf latte: a big nothing.
America wins when the voiceless have a seat at the table, when the vulnerable are protected and when working families have the same political clout as the wealthy.
So, Howard, in honor of the inspiring story you told us about health care and what it meant to your family, I will be sitting out Starbucks until after the election. When you decide the values that motivated your corporate conscience are worth fighting for, I will be back in line for another small coffee.
Follow Sen. Dick Durbin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@senatordurbin