This morning the Coffee Party announced that it will be focusing its attention on financial reform and campaign reform, and is polling members to determine the specific legislation it will focus its efforts on. For those who have been observing the Coffee Party with cautious optimism, this is great news, and a tremendous step forward for the nascent organization.
Financial reform and campaign finance reform are not sexy issues, but they are both critical issues America needs to confront now. They are also not easy topics to grapple with. I know this from having studied the issues closely on behalf of the Coffee Party research team. The Coffee Party deserves credit for engaging two complicated issues that matter rather than more superficial issues that lend themselves to easier messaging.
The Bull Moose Movement stands for the improving the civic education of Americans so that they can make the right choices at the ballot box and be engaged enough to pressure their elected officials between elections. The Coffee Party has demonstrated the potential to play a similar role, but we have all been waiting to see how their online sign-ups and coffee house meetings will translate into meaningful engagement and action.
By choosing these issues, the Coffee Party is demonstrating a willingness to tackle important, substantive issues. This is a relief, as I, and many others were unconvinced of their initial goal, which was to ‘foster a more civil dialogue.’ We wondered what the dialogue would actually be about, and the answer, reassuringly, is a discussion of two major policies.
The selection of campaign finance reform and financial reform also demonstrate the Coffee Party’s astute dedication to big-tent political issues. Both of these issues should be bi-partisan/non-partisan, and Republican opposition in Washington to both is astonishingly out of touch with independents and moderates. Never in recent memory has Republican hypocrisy been more flagrant than on the issue of financial reform. Even as Republicans slam the bailout initiated by George Bush that many of them voted for, and label Obama the Wall Street President, they shake down Wall Street for campaign handouts in return for their continued opposition to reform.
It still remains to be seen what exactly the Coffee Party will do to follow up discussions about these reforms. I suppose 100,000 people calling their Congressional representatives would send a strong message, but more effort than that went into stopping the Iraq War and fighting for the public option. Most elected officials are obstinate people who read their campaign treasurer’s reports before they ask how their constituents are doing.
My hope is that the Coffee Party will embrace the promotion of civic education that we are pushing for at the Bull Moose Movement. Really get into neighborhoods and talk to neighbors, small businesses and local media about why all of this matters. The Bull Moose Movement’s goals are extremely long-term, as civic education on the larger issue of corporate influence can’t happen overnight, or in one election cycle. That is why we do not really lobby for specific bills, which are often heavily watered down by the time the ‘debate’ starts (see: Senate financial reform bill). That said, the Coffee Party is strong in numbers, and could perhaps provide the last bit of momentum needed to push this weak sauce financial reform bill through. As for campaign finance reform, 100,000 phone calls won’t be enough to get the changes we need, but it’s not a bad start.