Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Marilou Johanek

Coffee Party the brew to wake up government

I'M joining the Coffee Party. You?

After what happened in the U.S. Senate this week, the Coffee Party may be just the wake-up brew we need to return our government to a democracy of, by, and for the people.

I don't know what it is now. But somewhere between the one-man filibuster over jobless benefits in the Senate and the struggle of sputtering lawmakers to break the belligerent blockade, I stumbled across an article about a new grass-roots online network for voters.

It appeals to citizens who are looking for more from their elected representatives than a zero-sum game with two opposing sides. Talk about a timely rescue.

The virtual coffee klatch is the brainchild of Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker in Washington. It aims to be an outlet for those who are fed up with partisanship sabotaging every collective decision for the common good and reducing the democratic process to a scorecard: If one side loses, the other side wins.

That got my attention, especially after the tug of war in the Senate over short-term funding for a host of federal programs, including unemployment and health benefits for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans.

And I'm not the only one curious about coffee.

Growing rapidly through a Facebook page, the Coffee Party can barely keep up with all the requests to join. People, it turns out, desperately want an alternative to tea - a tastier choice, if you will.

Coffee is not the opposite of tea, its founder stressed. But the movement does advocate cooperation among elected representatives and promotes civil public discourse.

Ms. Park, a 41-year-old South Korean immigrant, says her fledgling party is more focused on strengthening the democratic process than affecting deliberative outcomes, more interested in emphasizing participatory democracy than spouting extreme rhetoric, more committed to actively listening to one another and solving problems than spewing hostility toward the federal government or against those with diverse points of view.

Somebody pinch me and pour me another cup of joe. Is this new addition to the national political menu a serene island of sanity, a soothing refuge from the grandstanding of a Kentucky senator at the expense of the unemployed? Or is the Coffee Party a cruel mirage?

As the irascible Sen. Jim Bunning (R., Ky.) groused about missing a basketball game - the night the Senate worked until nearly midnight to mitigate his callous contempt for the jobless - was the silent majority finally waking up and smelling the coffee? Was the Bunning stunt the last straw?

Might the facetiously named movement, with an emphasis on civil engagement, actually gain a voice and an audience in Washington?

Or will it be gone as quickly as it appeared, shouted down by others in the room who are bound and determined to disrupt for drama?

It will be if we allow the partisan theater on indefinite run in Washington to continue taking center stage while the shared interests and goals of a nation are neglected.

What Senator Bunning tried to pull with money that people desperately count on during an economic meltdown is emblematic of the politics of division and obstructionism paralyzing progress in this country.

The productive give and take of lawmakers, which once allowed dissension without vilification and remained solution-oriented, has been reduced to playground antics and talking points.

Self-perpetuating politicians, with an eye on the next election, have no interest in working together to address the huge challenges Americans face.

They want face time on cable TV to make noise instead of conducting thoughtful dialog about issues that affect all of us. Take Mr. Bunning - please. The lame-duck lawmaker decided to score political points at the expense of the unemployed.

When Republicans ran things, he voted "to put two wars, tax cuts, and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation's credit card," as a home-state newspaper put it. With the Democrats in charge, he suddenly became eager to draw the line on deficit spending during what should have been a routine vote to extend unemployment benefits and short-term funding for highway projects.

For a few days, before relenting, he held up unemployment checks and construction work on 41 transportation projects across the country.

He played the conservative hero, fighting to keep Washington from spending money it doesn't have while sticking it to spendthrift Democrats, who will no doubt retaliate with campaigns of their own.

And so it goes. The Coffee Party's slogan is "Wake Up and Stand Up." It says it wants to restore democracy to a uniting - not dividing - exercise that produces solutions.

More caffeine sounds good. You?

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

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