TCS Daily


The Valley Edge

By Sonia Arrison - July 9, 2004 12:00 AM

In preparation for the Presidential election in November, a group of Silicon Valley's most influential entrepreneurs gathered in Redwood City to hash out the pros and cons of George Bush verses John Kerry. The debate, heated at times, revealed an ongoing dilemma.

The two official opponents were venture capitalist and Bush science advisor, Floyd Kvamme versus former FCC Chairman and Kerry supporter, Reed Hunt. Kvamme waxed lyrical about tax reform and war leadership while Hunt talked about socialized health care and America's image around the globe. The two sides, diametrically opposed, each found general support among participants.

Ellen Hancock, former CEO of Exodus, rose to support President Bush's tax cuts, and everyone in the room appeared to agree. Tony Perkins of the Always On network asked attendees to raise their hands if they thought more taxation would be good for the economy. In a room of around 100, only a single person raised his hand. That's strike one for Kerry who, as everyone knows, also opposes outsourcing -- an important business option that's helping grow the economic pie for everyone.

Innovators in Silicon Valley know that in order to create new and better products, they need to be as flexible as possible and be able to invest their money as they see fit. But the spirit of Silicon Valley encompasses more than money and gadgets. Chris Larsen of E-Loan stood up to speak for Kerry.

"George Bush does not share our values of openness and freedom of thought," he warned. Larsen explained that the Bush Administration's restrictions on stem cell research are antithetical to the Valley's quest for knowledge. This is strike one for Bush because as much as the U.S. is a leader in technology, the country won't keep that position if the government discourages research.

Kvamme's job of supporting president Bush got even harder when an emotional Kim Polese of Marimba read what she called her top-ten list of the "dumbest things the U.S. has done since 9-11." The reaction to her comments, which she summed up by saying "Bush is an international embarrassment," clearly resonated with the group. But as much as many in the Valley don't want to see the nation at war, military spending on technology is a boon to the region that is still recovering from the tech bust.

What became clear through the course of the event was that Bush's supporters were focused mainly on economic issues whereas Kerry supporters were more concerned with social issues. And if the goal is both economic and social freedom, it isn't obvious which candidate is best.

Silicon Forum organizer Auren Hoffman confessed he's conflicted on some of the issues, but nevertheless is voting for Bush because "he's the better candidate." Hoffman's resolve was openly shared by few, but if the Valley wants to continue to prosper it needs a president who values tax cuts and less regulation. President Bush hasn't been a perfect president on this score, but at least his intuition leads him in that direction.

Indeed, it was the Bush administration that managed to get Trade Promotion Authority through Congress and it also strongly supported the Internet tax moratorium. Contrast this to Kerry's intentions to fight outsourcing by creating an "education trust fund" and his support for doubling funding for the Manufacturing Extension Program. Kerry starts to look like an interventionist type that might also support ideas of government regulation of tech standards -- something most in the Valley would be loath to see.

"Kvamme for President!" someone yelled. Applause erupted. That the crowd was more enthusiastic about Floyd Kvamme for President than Bush or Kerry reveals the acknowledgement by many entrepreneurs that in this election there will be trade-offs between important values -- and an important one involves the war on terror.

We can aim for a stable Iraq or a free Iraq, Kvamme argued. "All people deserve freedom and democracy and that must be the goal. Stability can be a prison." In a world where millions of women and children lived under a relatively stable regime that denied them basic civil rights and dignity, he has a point.

President Bush had the sense to appoint Kvamme as his science advisor, so perhaps the vote of confidence for him is a nod to Bush, however weak. Who is better for Silicon Valley is debatable, but Bush appears to have an edge over Kerry.

If Bush wants to win the hearts and minds of California's tech community, and possibly the entire state, he should follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's lead by going moderate on social issues and holding on to solid economic principles.

Sonia Arrison is director of Technology Studies at the California-based Pacific Research Institute. She can be reached at sarrison@pacificresearch.org.


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