Politics

Howard Schultz’s Appearance on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Podcast Should Tank His Presidential Candidacy

Gwyneth Paltrow and Howard Schultz
Gwyneth Paltrow and Howard Schultz.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images and Alex Wong/Getty Images.

On Sunday, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced his intent to pursue a run for the presidency as an independent, telling the New York Times that he’ll travel around the nation for three months before making his final decision. As luck would have it, the 65-year-old multibillionaire has just published a new book, which he’ll conveniently be able to promote during his cross-country journey to save the republic.

Schultz made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Podcast one of his first stops—a puzzling choice for a would-be candidate who’ll have to win over swaths of the population that don’t belong to the engraved-24-karat-gold-sex-toy-purchasing demographic. In an hourlong conversation at a café (not a Starbucks!), the two moguls talked about the magic of coffee shops, the power of Jewish guilt, and how sad it is that American political discourse has gotten so darn uncivil.

The podcast is full of riveting exchanges between two people who identify as “purpose-driven” business leaders and who are both also insanely rich. To wit, this battle of bons mots:

Schultz: I’m drinking tea, actually, instead of coffee, because I’ve got a cold.

Paltrow: Are you allowed to drink tea?

Schultz: I’m totally allowed to drink tea.

Paltrow: You are? OK. I guess they sell tea at Starbucks.

Schultz: Yes, we do.

And this illuminating repartee on the topic of Schultz’s morning routine:

Paltrow: Do you exercise?

Schultz: I exercise. Doesn’t it look like I exercise?

Paltrow: Yes, you look very strong and fit.

Schultz-Paltrow 2020!

Considering the effort Paltrow expends positioning herself as an up-by-her-bootstraps achiever, listeners might come away thinking she’s the one mounting a presidential campaign. The born-wealthy child of Hollywood A-listers recounts her days living in her “first apartment, trying to make it as an actor,” when she would walk to Starbucks “to save money on gas” and buy her lattes with quarters she found by “digging around in my couch.” She claims she made such wonderful friendships at Starbucks that now, when she’s traveling for work and drinks one of the company’s coffees, she experiences a “very powerful sensory resonant feeling” of being “home.” Nothing like the taste of sameness to evoke memories of ye olde neighborhood corporate outpost.

While Paltrow’s apparent emotional ties to Schultz’s brand make her a less-than-objective interlocutor, she does stumble upon a few questions that force Schultz into uncomfortable positions. When Paltrow asks Schultz how much he thinks American policymakers are governing according to their own economic interests, Schultz—who would be the second U.S. president in a row with a troubling array of financial conflicts of interest—gets a little squirmy. “I don’t know if it’s so much the economic interests as it is the ideology of the people in charge,” he says. He tries to equate governing by ideology with governing by “self-interest,” as if an ideological win (passing universal health care) and a self-interested economic win (an extremely wealthy legislator passes steep tax cuts) convey equivalent benefits. “If you got people in a room whose party and ideology was left outside and we said, ‘Let’s just try and solve these problems to benefit all Americans,’ we could solve these problems,” Schultz promises. If only we’d thought of that!

When he’s not spouting fifth-grade-level paeans to political comity, there are moments when Schultz Goops it up a bit, peppering his stories with the language of a Moon Juice–guzzling, jade egg–inserting Paltrow acolyte. In an anecdote about his friendship with a Hasidic rabbi in Israel, Schultz says he wasn’t studying religion, but “humanity, wisdom, in service of others” and “what it means to be a servant leader.” Paltrow, of “conscious uncoupling” fame, does, bless her, force Schultz to define “servant leadership.” “Giving yourself to others,” he responds. “Being present, being human.” But whenever Schultz starts to sound a bit too heady for a career in mainstream politics, he rights himself by emitting some tried-and-true political banalities. Both leaders lament the divisiveness and “hateful rhetoric” (on both sides!) that define contemporary political debate—a situation Paltrow describes as “toxic.” That’s how you know it’s bad here in America, because nothing in the Goop universe poses as much of a threat as a toxin.

It’s funny to listen to Schultz try to explain political things, because it’s clear he lacks the basic savvy that was once expected of presidential candidates. He tells Paltrow legislators should reach across the proverbial aisle because they were “elected to represent all of America, not their individual constituency,” which is just flat-out untrue. He brags about how he decided to charge more for coffee because he wanted to give health insurance and stock options to all his employees, then pretends he doesn’t understand how raising taxes (essentially charging some people higher prices so others can have better living conditions and opportunities) might make universal health care possible here, as it is in much of the rest of the developed world.

As amusing as it is to witness Paltrow credit Schultz with introducing America to “that new idea of community”—aka the coffee shop—and to hear both executives describe the other as “inspiring,” astute listeners will note an unforgivable gap in the conversation, a point of shared interest Paltrow and Schultz could have discussed for hours. One can only hope Paltrow moderates a presidential debate. Otherwise, we may never get the Schultz campaign’s take on the Goop-approved coffee enema.