Thursday, May 15, 2008

How Silicon Valley Made Obama Possible

Today's MUST READ - The Amazing Money Machine: How Silicon Valley Made Barack Obama This Year's Hottest Start Up. Josh Green at The Atlantic Monthly outlines how Silicon Valley (which was in its infancy in 1996, the last time a Clinton ran for president), it's money, it's outlook, it's business models have revolutionized politics - motivated mostly by the Iraq war and Bush incompetence and crimes.

I whole heartedly agree with Andrew Sullivan's view, posted May 3rd, that Bush is what made Obama possible. This is from Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish (also at The Atlantic and which I check a few times a day):

I don't think Obama would be in anything like the position he is now in were it not for George W. Bush.

In fact, I think Bush has made Obama possible. Many of us are so disgusted, repelled and appalled by what has been done these past few years - massive spending, massive debt, a fantastically bungled war, the legalization of torture, the demonization of minorities, etc. - that we are prepared to look over some ideological and political differences to back the person who most represents a total repudiation of the Bush Republicans. That Obama also represents a repudiation of boomer culture warfare, transforms our racial politics and single-handedly rebrands America as a decent force in the world is, of course, hard to get across to those who still regard Bush as a great president.

So yes, this is in part about the toxins of the Bush years: a desire to flush them as emphatically as possible from the communal bloodstream.

And Green's piece puts meaning into that repulsion. He explains how that antipathy in a powerful, rich, very innovative part of the country motivated key people to revolutionize not just how campaigns are run, but if Obama wins, perhaps even how the government is run. Green shows how Bush's lowest approval rating ever, for any president (82%) has been a force of constructive change. (Could it be??? YES IT CAN!)

Meanwhile Bush is in a bubble spouting six words that sum up his world view - "popularity is fleeting...principles are forever" in a White House interview with Politico and Yahoo News — a president's first for an online audience. Too bad his principles he has held fast too are so very wrong.

Maybe this is the phoenix rising out of the ashes. The years of choking ash have been very long and very dark.

Green's piece not long and it's a must read. You really have to read the whole thing!

Here are a few money quotes to entice you ----
Obama’s campaign is admired by insiders of both parties for its functional beauty—not just admired but gawked at, like some futuristic concept car leaking rocket vapor at an auto show. Obama’s campaign has made a similar leap in how it has applied technology to the practices of raising money and organizing, and it is already the clear model for everyone else.

What folks in Silicon Valley think of experience, a valid point, and even one I've heard Obama himself make in his 60 Minutes interview back on February 7th "One of the interesting things about this experience argument is that it's often posed as just a function of longevity. You know, 'I've been here longer.' Well, you know there are a lot of companies that have been around longer than Google…but Google's performing."

From Green, reporting on Silicon Valley's view of Obama, experience, ideas and leadership:

Furthermore, in Silicon Valley’s unique reckoning, what everyone else considered to be Obama’s major shortcomings—his youth, his inexperience—here counted as prime assets.

I asked Roos, the personification of a buttoned-down corporate attorney, if there had been concerns about Obama’s limited CV, and for a moment he looked as if he might burst out laughing. “No one in Silicon Valley sits here and thinks, ‘You need massive inside-the-Beltway experience,’” he explained, after a diplomatic pause. “Sergey and Larry were in their early 20s when they started Google. The YouTube guys were also in their 20s. So were the guys who started Facebook. And I’ll tell you, we recognize what great companies have been built on, and that’s ideas, talent, and inspirational leadership.”

Here's how Obama massively altered state of campaigning reality can and will likely change how the reality of governing. (I've read that Obama wants to create an Ipod government - well designed and easy to use. See my post, Obama's Ipod Government, from March 18th).

From a policy standpoint, there are many reasons for tech-minded types to support Obama, including his pledge to establish a chief technology officer for the federal government and to radically increase its transparency by making most government data available online. “Barack recognizes that people in Silicon Valley are not just talking about a set of technical questions,” Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford law professor and noted Valley demigod, told me. “It’s a broader generational issue of how to architect and orient the government on important issues, from privacy to security to competition, in ways that open up the process to everyone.”

But more than any policy, the idea of Obama and the world he speaks for seemed to excite something deep within the limbic system of the Valley brain that manifested itself through the early and continuing financial support that was crucial to launching Obama’s campaign.

Obama's personal role in harnessing this culture's power:

Staffers credit the candidate himself with recognizing the importance of this new tool and claim that his years as a community organizer in Chicago allowed him to see its usefulness.


Obama himself shrewdly capitalizes on both the turnout and the connectivity of his stadium crowds by routinely asking them to hold up their cell phones and punch in a five-digit number to text their contact information to the campaign—to win their commitment right there on the spot.
How Hillary, and even more so McCain, has been caught in the headlights:
“What’s amazing,” says Peter Leyden of the New Politics Institute, “is that Hillary built the best campaign that has ever been done in Democratic politics on the old model—she raised more money than anyone before her, she locked down all the party stalwarts, she assembled an all-star team of consultants, and she really mastered this top-down, command-and-control type of outfit. And yet, she’s getting beaten by this political start-up that is essentially a totally different model of the new politics.”
The numbers:
In February, the Obama campaign reported that 94 percent of their donations came in increments of $200 or less, versus 26 percent for Clinton and 13 percent for McCain. Obama’s claim of 1,276,000 donors through March is so large that Clinton doesn’t bother to compete; she stopped regularly providing her own number last year...It’s possible to track the network effects in the growing fund-raising numbers that seem to arrive in ever larger denominations: $25 million … $30 million … $35 million … in February, the staggering $55 million—nearly $2 million a day .
Who has the money, has the power. Now it's diffuse, it's all of us, it's the manifestation of the reform of, ironically, McCain-Feingold.
In a sense, Obama represents a triumph of campaign-finance reform...he has realized the reformers’ other big goal of ending the system whereby a handful of rich donors control the political process. He has done this not by limiting money but by adding much, much more of it—democratizing the system by flooding it with so many new contributors that their combined effect dilutes the old guard to the point that it scarcely poses any threat. Goren­berg says he’s still often asked who the biggest fund-raisers are. He replies that it is no longer possible to tell. “Any one of them could wind up being huge,” he says, “because it no longer matters how big a check you can write; it matters how motivated you are to reach out to others.”

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