The Republican Party, the party of lower taxes and less government, has always been aligned with the nations business interests. So youd think the tech community—an industry growing in importance in the United States and globally—would staunchly support President George W. Bushs re-election.
That hasnt been the case, however. In 2000, tech supported—with votes and contributions—the unsuccessful candidacy of Democrat Al Gore. But this year, if campaign donations are any measure, the industry appears to be moving slightly toward the Republican Party. The Center for the Study of Responsive Politics, a campaign finance group, shows contributions from people working in the computer and Internet business to be just about evenly matched between parties, with 51 percent of contributions going to Democrats and 49 percent to Republicans.
Thats probably not a big surprise to Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Draper, 46, is a lifelong Republican whose family has enjoyed a long friendship with the Bush family. That makes him one of the best people to call and ask why tech entrepreneurs and others should support Bushs re-election.
In e-mail and on the phone, Draper ticks off his list.
No. 1? Lower taxes are good for business. All business. “If you have higher taxes, that money goes to the government,” says Draper. That leaves less money for investment, which, in turn, slows down economic growth. “Youre taking money out of what would be private hands,” he says. President Bush has said he wants to make the tax cuts enacted temporarily by his administration permanent, and Draper whole-heartedly supports that idea.
Hitting directly on a fault line separating different parts of the tech work force, Draper says he also worries that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry would create a more protectionist environment where government would work against international competition for jobs and services. Thats bad for all businesses, says Draper.
“Im scared that we as a country will start thinking in terms of protection,” says Draper, whose firm is perhaps most famous for backing Hotmail, the free e-mail service (now part of Microsoft) started by an Indian-born entrepreneur.
“We can no longer compete in the world economy,” he says, worrying again about protectionism. “So were going to close that door.” Thats a short-sighted solution, Draper says.
To answer this challenge, President Bush is making a number of proposals part of what he calls creating an “ownership society,” an idea that should have special appeal to tech workers, who are long accustomed to grappling with the fast pace of technological change and market shifts that can close down companies, even industries, in months. The “ownership society” proposal is supported by plans to let employees control their retirement plans and take benefits with them when they change jobs.
Bush has suggested that the nations Social Security system be reformed by letting those who want to—he singled out “younger workers” in his speech before the Republican convention last week—join a private social security system. A similar reform plan, devised by scholars at the University of Chicago, worked well in Chile, says Draper, and should be of similar benefit here, giving those who are best able to take advantage of it more control over their retirement plans. “So my kids dont pay into a system that doesnt come back to them,” Draper notes.
Proposals to create a form of mobile medical insurance, where benefits follow workers, will also help the United States compete more effectively, says Draper. Workers wont cling to jobs because of their benefits. “They should go with you,” he says, so employees can follow changes in the job market. Very few workers can—or should—expect to stay in the same job. The president understands this fact of life, says Draper.
“[Bush] recognizes we are forced to be a mobile work force,” Draper says. “Hes very focused on the mobile work force. I think his solution is a lot better than saying, You cant hire people from India because theyre cheaper.”
A simpler, more streamlined tax code like that proposed by the president will also help individual entrepreneurs and small businesses, he says. “The idea is strict fairness and simplicity,” Draper says of the proposed reforms to tax law. “They know what the rules are, and its clear.”
Draper says he disagrees with Bush on some social issues—abortion, specifically. And hed like to see the president push a more dramatic education reform package (Draper is a longtime proponent of a school voucher program) but emphasizes that his support for Bush is a support for a freer, more independent society.
“If you categorize me, just say Im a freedom fighter,” he says. “Im always looking for the freedom candidate—freedom socially, freedom economically.”
eWEEK.com Technology and Politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog.