How Silicon Valley Could Destabilize The Democratic Party

President Barack Obama holds up a Facebook hoodie sweater that was given to him by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, during a town hall meeting to discuss reducing the national debt, April 20, 2011, at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama holds up a Facebook hoodie sweater that was given to him by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Joel Kotkin  writes:  Much has been written, often with considerable glee, about the worsening divide in the Republican Party between its corporate and Tea Party wings. Yet the Democrats may soon face their own schism as a result of the growing power in the party of high-tech business interests.

Gaining the support of tech moguls is a huge win for the Democrats — at least initially. They are not only a huge source of money, they also can provide critical expertise that the Republicans have been far slower to employ. There have always been affluent individuals who backed liberal or Democratic causes, either out of conviction or self-interest, but the tech moguls may be the first large capitalist constituency outside Hollywood to identify almost entirely with the progressives.

This alliance of high tech and Democrats is relatively new. In the 1970s and 1980s the politics of Silicon Valley’s leaders tended more to middle-of-the-road Republican. But the new generation oligarchs are very different from the traditional “propeller heads” who once populated the Valley. More media savvy and less dependent on manufacturing, the new leaders have less interest in the kind of infrastructure and business policies generally favored by more traditional businesses. They also tend to have progressive views on gay marriage and climate change that align with the gospel of the Obama Democratic Party.

In the process, the Bay Area, particularly the Silicon Valley- San Francisco corridor, has become one of the most solidly liberal regions in the country. The leading tech companies, mostly based in the area, send over four-fifths of their contributions to Democratic candidates.

This tech alliance is creating a pool of potential business-tested candidates for the party, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has said he wants to run for mayor of New York someday, even if he now resides in San Francisco.

The tech oligarchs are also poised to reinforce the media dominance enjoyed by the Democrats. Over the past two years we have seen one tech entrepreneur and Obama ally, Chris Hughes, take over the venerable New Republic, while another, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post. More important, pro-Democratic tech firms such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Google now dominate the online news business, while others, such as Netflix and Amazon, are moving aggressively into music, film and television.

Yet for all the advantages of this burgeoning alliance with tech interests, it threatens to create tensions with the party’s traditional base — minorities, labor unions and the public sector — as the party tries accommodate a constituency that combines social liberalism and environmentalist sentiments with vaguely libertarian instincts. The fact that this industry has a pretty awful record on labor and equity issues is something that could prove inconvenient to Democrats seeking to adopt class warfare as their primary tactic.

Indeed, despite its counter-cultural trappings and fashionably progressive leanings, Silicon Valley has turned out to be every bit as cutthroat and greedy as any gaggle of capitalists. Leftist journalists like John Judis may rethink their support for the Valley agenda once they realize that they have become poster children for overweening elite power and outrageous inequality.

Privacy is one issue that should divide liberals from the tech oligarchs. Historically liberals have been on the front line of the battle to protect personal information. But now tech interests have worked hard, with considerable Democratic support, to block privacy protections that would damage their profits in Europe, and closer to home.

Another inevitable flashpoint regards unions, a core progressive constituency. Venture capitalist Mark Andreesen recently declared that “there doesn’t seem to be a role” for unions in the modern economy because people are “marketing themselves and their skills.” Amazon has battled unions not only in the United States, but in more union-friendly Europe as well.

Avatars of equality? Valley boosters speak of the “glorious cocktail of prosperity” they have concocted, but have been very slow to address, or even seek to ameliorate, the vast social chasm that exists under their feet

Read the rest…


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