By Alexandra Petri
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Few problems in this life cannot be solved by the application of coffee. When you hear the chimes at midnight, and you have a project that must be finished by dawn, and you have all the vigor of a newspaper that has been left out in the rain — well, just apply coffee.
Coffee, an increasing number of studies say, can fix pretty much everything that ails you. Drink six to 10 cups a day, and you can become functionally immortal, if a little twitchy.
According to Starbucks chief Howard Schultz, the "fiscal cliff" is one of those problems that can be solved by coffee.
Schultz recently started something called the Come Together project.
In the face of the fiscal-cliff battle, he noted, "Rather than be bystanders, we have an opportunity — and I believe a responsibility — to use our company's scale for good by sending a respectful and optimistic message to our elected officials to come together and reach common ground on this important issue."
Wonderful! But how?
"This week through December 28, partners in our Washington D.C. area stores are writing 'Come Together' on customers' cups."
To the barricades!
This is a nice thought, in the sense that putting a daisy down the barrel of a tank is a nice thought. But it's asking a lot of the tank.
We would not want to be bystanders in this. No, we must write our will — with bold, broad strokes — on America's coffee cups.
The Starbucks effort has earned richly deserved mockery from the Internet. Numerous baristas aren't participating. And, as The Washington Post has pointed out, the fiscal cliff isn't so much a debt crisis as it is an enforced austerity crisis that might actually provide more time before we hit the debt ceiling (though it seems likely to trigger another recession).
But let's just walk through this in an ideal circumstance.
The scene: Starbucks, Capitol Hill.
Enter a beleaguered senator. He requests his usual venti no-whip caramel macchiato. When it comes, he glances at the cup, where someone has illegibly scrawled . . . something. He is not sure what. To his inexpert eye, it appears to be a badly wounded pine cone.
"This isn't my name," he says. "Did I take someone else's?"
"No," the barista says. "That is 'Come Together.' For the debt thing."
"Oh," he says. He glances at the pine cone again. Suddenly, all becomes clear to him. He dashes back to the Hill and starts grabbing colleagues, left and right. "Come on!" he shouts. "Time to forge consensus! Time to come together!"
"What brought this change over you, sir?" someone asks, as they stare down at the Simple and Logical Solution Based On Mutual Respect and Shared Sacrifice that they have managed to whip up together with minimal froth, like a poorly made cappuccino. "Was it the worried talkers on the news? Was it your constituents, calling to express concern? Was it your general feeling that it would not be good for the country if we failed to find a resolution?"
"No," the lawmaker says. "It was something I read on my coffee cup."
"I mean, those other things are nice, but until someone writes something on my macchiato, I don't really have a sense of urgency."
If this is what we think of our lawmakers, I am not sure I want them in charge of fixing anything.
Look, I love Starbucks. I get the kind of satisfaction from seeing Starbucks spread its caffeinated tentacles across the earth that a believer feels on the erection of a new temple.
As I have noted before, if Starbucks coffee were a church, I would be high enough up in the ranks of worshipers to be entitled to a strange hat or, at the very least, a gold card.
But this effort is ridiculous. And things won't stop there. The Patch.com network is encouraging people to "write messages and create drawings on Starbucks cups to express their opinions on significant topics facing our country. We will then send the cups to Washington so that lawmakers can understand how people in communities across the country feel about these issues, and to initiate action."
The least interesting thing about coffee is the cup it comes in. This is like putting Serious Political Messages on the footwear at the Victoria's Secret fashion show. It may make you feel good, but who's looking at it?
Still, don't rule the coffee out. As we draw closer to the fiscal-cliff deadline, as the Senate wrangles and House members pace into the wee hours of the night, the only way out may be to apply coffee to the problem.
No matter what it says on the cup.