With its fortunes dwindling, the Democratic Party is in dire need of a shakeup—or maybe a shakedown. Some pundits have suggested the party work harder to woo working class voters, and there’s been internal debate about shifting away from identity politics. Put simply, the Democrats want to get back some of the white working class votes they used to take for granted in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Now two Silicon Valley billionaires are riding to the rescue with a digital master plan called “Win The Future” (WTF). Saving (or disrupting) the Democrats during their darkest hour and helping them reconnect with working people is the name of the game. It’s all a bit odd, considering that Silicon Valley has often been characterized by a “distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry.”
How Silicon Valley Hopes To Change Democrats
The billionaires in question are Mark Pincus, co-founder of Zynga (think: Farmville), and Reid Hoffman, the brains behind LinkedIn. WTF is basically intended to act as a digitized “virtual party.” It functions by crowdsourcing policy ideas from platforms like Twitter (essentially judged by amount of likes and retweets) and raising grassroots money to run populist candidates. Because we all know that when a lot of people like something on Twitter, it’s bound to be high quality.
In any case, Pincus and Hoffman hope to channel the views of millions of voters into a revitalized, well funded, and winnable Democratic agenda. Side note: I’m sure alt-right trolls won’t try to derail the Twitter aspect.
Another thing WTF money will be used for? Billboards. They plan to showcase their most popular policy zingers close to D.C. airports so that “members of Congress see it,” as Pincus put it. I’m sure if a politician sees a provocative billboard from WTF as they drive away from Dulles, it will change their mind on everything. They’ll rip up that last donor check, and become a righteous rebel. You know you’re dealing with a Silicon Valley genius when he suggests putting up political billboards! This could revolutionize politics. It’s certainly never been done yet, so we can only guess the impact it’ll have.
What The WTF Campaign Wants To Accomplish
In terms of fielding talent, Pincus and Hoffman hope to get the lead singer of Third Eye Blind Stephan Jenkins to run for office as a WTF Democrat, and want to encourage outside talent and non-politicians to run. WTF is right.
Pincus is also open to WTF going after Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein’s seats. OK, he could be on to something there, and Silicon Valley was big in crafting tools that helped the Obama campaign nab victory in 2008, but still. WTF.
Indisputably in touch with the concerns of working people, Pincus compared politics to developing a video game in a recent feature in Recode:
“Gaming in 2007, believe it or not, was a declining industry, and no one saw it as a big growth area,” Pincus began. “And my insight [was] that the biggest reason it was declining is that it was serving the hardcore gamer, and gaming was getting more complex and expensive…”
But Pincus believed fervently that adults had in them a “latent demand to play games.” His solution for his own industry is now well-documented: The social-minded gaming company Zynga, which owns the likes of FarmVille and Words with Friends.
In politics, though, Pincus sees a similarly — needlessly — complex game. Replace the Xbox controller maybe with the impenetrable machinations of Congress, where bills and markups and votes are often the stuff of hard-to-discern theater. So, too, are the costs of playing increasingly high at a time when political money can — and does — flow uninhibited to campaigns in the forms of hard-to-track nonprofits and super PACs.
To summarize: Pincus paved the way for endlessly exasperating Farmville invitations and fun distraction games like Words for Friends for your iPhone so he knows how to win an election by paring down to basics for beginners. Are you convinced yet?
Sorry, Democrats, But This Isn’t The Way Forward
Pincus has called for a “revolution” for quite some time now, and is clearly enthused about WTF, which just launched July 4, but he should probably hold his horses/Democratic donkeys. Just because you’re rather rich and people nod fervently and act amazed at what you say doesn’t mean your ideas are diamonds in the rough. The website urges visitors to “Help us create the People’s Lobby” and includes join and donate buttons. Hopefully it does better than Pincus’ former similarly-oriented venture eparty.org (more like eparty.fail), which didn’t succeed in its mission of “digitizing democracy” and achieving “real gun control.”
There’s no doubt that Democrats need to go back to the drawing board if they want to win elections again. But getting rewired by the guys behind Farmville and LinkedIn probably isn’t the best way to appear less annoying and detached. Going from building a farm on your smartphone to helping a real farmer seems like a bit of a stretch.
Then again, it is the dawning of the Age of Zuckerberg, so perhaps the billionaire tech overlords’ reign of power is inevitable. Maybe everyone in Iowa will get a job from Facebook or Zynga prior to the next election—no strings attached.
But seriously, how are two enormously wealthy tech entrepreneurs going to challenge the ascendance of gargantuan multinational corporations or technological innovations that put factory workers out of a job through automation, when these are precisely what drive their industry’s profits and dominance? Silicon Valley, which has helped decimate the middle class now wants to appeal to it in some folksy way? Good luck!
Technology Hasn’t Been The Democrats’ Friend Lately
Technology hasn’t always been the biggest friend to Democrats, particularly in the last election. In fact, letting sloppy, inaccurate polling and analytical data override common sense steps, like spending time in Wisconsin, was part of what lost Hillary Clinton the race. Despite 400,000 simulations per day of what a race against Trump could boil down to and where to focus campaign resources, Clinton’s camp still lost. You can “know” a lot and have a lot of information and still be wrong. Politics is wild and unpredictable, and it’s getting wilder by the minute.
In contrast, Donald Trump’s campaign used technology masterfully to swing the election his way (for a deeper, fascinating read on this see here). Trump also had an ultra-wealthy tech genius in his corner: hedge fund manager, computer scientist, and early artificial intelligence developer Robert Mercer. By turning big data personal and psychologically profiling voters in borderline creepy ways, Trump’s campaign was able to turn out unexpectedly high numbers, especially in crucial swing states that broke down the Democrats’ blue wall and put a shiny new gold buckle on the Rust Belt.
So it’s fair to say analytical technology was important in 2016. Tangent: Trump also has Peter Thiel on his side, and whatever else may be said about Thiel, he put Gawker out of business and is clearly an exceptionally clever individual. Thiel probably laughs out loud when he reads about these kind of out-of-touch, idealistic new projects by people like Pincus. Compared to his Silicon brethren, Thiel’s libertarian seastead islands sound almost plausible.
Democrats Need Help. Just Not This Help
I think everyone would agree that the Democrats need help. Even just picking new stickers for the party isn’t working out so well. The thing is, innovators like Pincus and Hoffman want to pump up the Democrats by going about politics a new way, instead of considering that the problem may be simpler and less easily fixed: maybe people just don’t like the Democratic party that much.
So are the wizards of Silicon Valley going to resuscitate a faltering Democratic party led by Third Eye Blind and an enthusiastic mob of policy-savvy Tweeters? Smart money would be on: not so fast, Jack.