Rand Paul in TechLand

This past weekend [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] opened a small office at an incubator in a gritty neighborhood in the center of San Francisco, and spent an hour with a crowd of about 100 giving a short stump speech and answering questions from San Francisco Chronicle political reporter Carla Marinucci and a representative of one of the event organizers. The sponsors were Brigade (a nascent social network company devoted to voter engagement at the federal and state level), and Lincoln Labs (committed to bringing together the best of the political and tech worlds). The audience was a mix of Millenial software engineers / entrepreneurs, and political types trying to figure out how to attract young techies to the Republican banner. The event had both local and national flavors.

First, a note on the local politics. With the booming economy of Silicon Valley there is a growing resentment among the progressive Left against the 38,000 young employees of Google, Twitter, SalesForce.com, Zynga, Airbnb, and the hundreds of other recent start-up companies who work in San Francisco and the many more who live in the City for the social scene, but commute to jobs in Palo Alto (Hewlett Packard), Redwood City (Oracle), and other nearby locations. Recent protests against the “Google Buses” run by the external companies have abated with agreements about fees paid for the use of municipal bus stops, but the opposition to gentrification is  rapidly growing with calls for a moratorium on development in the traditionally poor, significantly Hispanic Mission District just to the west of [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ]’s office location, and a $250,000,000 or more bond to build more publicly subsidized housing. Vilified by the Left, entrepreneurial and libertarian in attitude, economically upward looking, certainly these folks are Republicans in waiting. Well…..

It is dangerous to extrapolate from a small sample, but it is not obvious from the attendees at this meeting that they care about much partisan politics  – and that’s the ones who spent their Saturday afternoon with [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] rather than staying at home working on their app or heading down to one of the hottest new clubs on Yelp – if they still use Yelp. What they did care about is the “Next Big Thing”.

One of the thoughts – perhaps more clever than true – is that 2008 was the Facebook election, 2012 was the Twitter election, and 2016 will be the Periscope election. What is Periscope the reader asks?  As folks have become bored with 144 character tweets, computer power has progressed to the point that the marriage of video and mobile phones allows people to be voyeurs, observing the world through the eyes of someone else. How that impacts politics is unclear, but so was Facebook before David Axelrod.  The continuing progress of “Big Data” seems to be more real, as does the prospect of a web site such as Brigade and All Sides which will provide competing perspectives on a political issue – if there is an audience for that.  What the computer engineers at the [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] event do know is that there are hundreds of millions of dollars sloshing around the political world in search of the technical advantage which Barack Obama seized in 2008.

And how does the libertarian Republican presidential candidate go over with this crowd?  He gets kudos for being the most interested of all the candidates of either party in understanding the potential for another round of technologically-driven disruptive change in politics. His staunch opposition to the NSA’s program of warrantless collection of millions of phone records is the central message of his presentation, and rings well. On the other hand, he was on the opposite side of the vast majority of the audience on their major issue with his opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision in favor of “net neutrality” – the principle that the major internet service providers (AT&T; Comcast; Verizon) cannot provide preferential service to larger companies who can pay for it. One suspects that this position reflects libertarian, “get the government out of the way”, principles rather a big business donor base; but the impact is the same. And that was before Marinucci’s question about his Kentucky-esque view of gay marriage.

With a crowded field each of the Republican candidates must offer a reason for being. Paul has his with the libertarian wing of the party, but it is not obvious that that extends to the politically agnostic, but self-interested technology crowd.


This week’s video offers the cornerstone of Paul’s foreign policy view – that decisions by the Bush and Obama (Clinton) administrations to remove dictators in the Middle East has resulted in worse situations in Iraq, Libya, and potentially, Syria- 5/15/15