Silicon Valley regulars like Google, Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Vinod Khosla, Eric Schmidt, Peter Thiel, and a gaggle of venture capital firms have tried to growth hack Ro Khanna into Congress. With polls in a "dead heat," Y Combinator partner Garry Tan decided to make the culture fit argument more explicit, calling Khanna "one of us."
The Democrat v. Democrat race for the 17th Congressional District is between Mike Honda, a reliable progressive with clear policies and Khanna, who uses a lot of tech jargon. Tan says the words the GOP has been longing to hear: Silicon Valley is tiring of traditional Democrats who don't vote in the industry's business interests.
There's nothing wrong with Honda — he's an old-line Democrat. Except that's actually the problem. He hasn't done much in the way of defending the things we really care about: Immigration reform, free Internet rights, supporting entrepreneurship, and reforming education. If Silicon Valley can elect Ro, then we as citizens are making a statement that business as usual for the Democratic party just isn't going to fly.
[...] Ro is one of us. He's committed to reforming immigration so our talented friends who happened to be born elsewhere can still come here to create new businesses and jobs. Startups die every other day because of our antiquated and special-interest-ridden immigration policies. He's on our side when it comes to SOPA, PIPA, net neutrality and a maintaining a free and open Internet.
Incredibly, the Khanna campaign has used Honda's commitment to progressive economic policy to paint its candidate as an underdog, an outside-the-box thinker—a "disruptor," in Silicon Valley parlance. But what's obscured in the dichotomy created by the Khanna campaign—tech-savvy innovator versus out-of-touch elder statesman—is that Honda has, in fact, taken a series of clear positions on tech questions. In some cases, those positions have been much clearer than those of his competitor.
In 2003, Honda introduced a landmark nanotechnology bill that authorized more than $3.7 billion to be invested in nanotech. He vocally opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act—House and Senate bills, respectively, that would have dramatically advanced the government's ability to intervene against websites hosting copyrighted material. Today he opposes the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which would allow companies immunity in sharing user data with the NSA. He describes himself as an "ardent defender" of net neutrality. He is co-chair of the Democratic Caucus New Media Working Group and has championed funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields. All told, there don't appear to be many substantive tech issues that Honda doesn't "get."
What's hiding behind the obscured equation in Khanna's campaign photo (above)? What exactly does Khanna "get"? According to Cushing, he mostly has a handle on the disruptive vibe and the meaningless jargon:
But in an industry that takes the techno-utopian view that government is made to be hacked and that legislators are merely the hackers, the investor class may be looking less for a set of policies than for someone who will prioritize their needs over time. Silicon Valley donors don't describe Khanna in terms of positions and platforms, but rather in impressionistic terms, in cultural platitudes and buzzwords. They are particularly fond of saying that Khanna "gets it," that he understands their values and speaks their language, whereas Honda doesn't. Khanna himself plays into this cosmetic-level criticism with his argument that his opponent doesn't know the intricacies of various coding languages, perhaps forgetting that the congressman is a legislator, not a developer.
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