Your dog (you can substitute cat, hamster, iguana) has political opinions. He or she is an empathetic life force who will back you through thick or thin. So whom does he or she like for mayor of Aspen this spring?
Your dog has had the sense not to get into it with you over politics. Your pet sees no point in a political argument. Besides, there are priorities — like what’s in my food, can I go out to poop on schedule, or is it OK for me to jump up on the bed tonight?
Your pet loves you unconditionally. All he or she wants is your affection. What a perfect relationship.
So we have to be a little concerned that a popular icon, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, appears headed for doom and destruction by revving up a political action committee. By February of last year, Facebook’s PAC had raised $170,000, including $113,750 from company employees. The company hired ex-White House advisors from both parties and opened a lobbying office in Washington.
Facebook has a few issues. The $208,000 it spent on lobbying in 2008 had jumped to over $1.3 million three years later. It attracted consumer and regulator scrutiny over Internet privacy concerns and copyright issues. Any company, once it gets big enough, needs special friends in Washington.
Zuckerberg was concerned with education policies, since he’d need highly trained professionals with expertise in programming, coding, finance, marketing and distribution channels. Yet government rules restrict the number of U.S. entry Visas to 65,000 per year, even for foreigners educated here.
Still, Zuckerberg favored non-political causes. He donated Facebook shares worth nearly $500 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in 2012.
Then Zuckerberg began wading into roiling waters. He planned a February fundraising dinner at his home for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s seeking re-election this year and is a Republican presidential hopeful for 2016. Christie has backed education reform. He pushed a New Jersey proposal to weaken teacher tenure and allow performance bonuses, which unions oppose.
Christie and Zuckerberg were teaming up with popular Newark mayor Cory Booker, often a Christie ally though a Democrat. Zuckerberg in 2011 had agreed to a $100 million donation to Newark public schools.
But last month, the San Francisco Chronicle disclosed that Zuckerberg was forming a “Super PAC” — formally a 501(c)(4) group — to allow more well-educated engineer immigrants to enter the U.S. His letter to President Obama included signatures of chiefs at Hewlett Packard, Google, Cisco, Yahoo and eBay.
Then came missteps. A “prospectus” attributed to Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate Joe Green foresaw political weight because Internet startup chiefs are rich, socially connected and popular. It spoke of “massive distribution channels,” and influence on the “current campaign finance environment.”
Green issued an apology for the leaked notes, noting some of them were already “outdated” and included poorly chosen language.
Say it ain’t so, Mark. We’ve all seen “The Social Network,” the film about the origins of Facebook. There’s plenty of admiration for the latest Silicon Valley billionaire who kept control of Facebook even as it went public.
Sure, Zuckerberg got sued by would-be partners or founders. But Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay portrayed the prickly Facebook founder as impatient and a little arrogant. Does anyone still remember the “Winklevii”?
Zuckerberg is a cultural icon. Our admiration for him is not (yet) tarnished by politics. But as Internet companies get big, they get into scrapes. Google is mentioned as a search engine monopolist. Amazon and Overstock sparked calls that their goods be taxed across state lines. Microsoft has battled antitrust allegations since its founding.
Facebook is nearing a danger zone in its challenge to immigration limits. Many agree with them, saying there’s little to back up the arbitrary 65,000-year limit on such entry Visas. But as Rick Newman put it in a piece in US News, Zuckerberg can’t help but get muddied by immigration politics.
“In Washington, as in the online world, everything is ultimately connected to everything else,” Newman wrote.
Politics can destroy popular promise. Donald Trump was a possibly lovable icon until he emerged as a “birther” and pushed himself off the edge by overusing Twitter. Joe Ricketts, founder of Ameritrade, helped plan an eight-figure anti-Obama campaign that would portray the president as a “metrosexual black Abraham Lincoln.” Though Ricketts no longer controls Ameritrade, the firm was flooded with cancellations after the story broke last year.
Say it ain’t so, Mark. Don’t assume wealth will get you anywhere but into trouble. Stay above the treetops.
Curt Shilling is an icon in Boston, brought there to pitch the Red Sox to a World Series victory. In 2004, he achieved that dream so famously that he visibly bled through his sock and ankle sutures specially sewn for a single famous playoff victory against the Yankees.
In Boston, almost everyone is reliably Irish, Catholic, or a Democrat. And then Schilling went and backed a Republican.
You’re still a legend, Curt. Say it ain’t so.
You too, Mark. We like you as you are. Stay out of the fray.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a founder of the Aspen Daily News and appears here Sundays.