The political odyssey of the technology industry’s best and brightest began quietly back in 1992, when a group of high-profile computer executives publicly backed Bill Clinton for president. Four years later, many of these same folks supported Clinton again. Their endorsements proved crucial in both elections.
In the process of trucking with Democrats, the normally libertarian cyber set discovered the nation’s capital-and old-fashioned politics. These days, Washington, D.C., is practically a second home to Bill Gates. Gates isn’t alone in making the pilgrimage East. With less fanfare, Doerr and his pals are climbing all over the city too. And part of their agenda is to rail against Microsoft and the huge power Gates wields over the new economic sector that has developed as a result of the connections among four big industries: computers, software, television and publishing.
Doerr likes to think he has Gates on the run. And now that Vice President Al Gore is diligently wooing the digital rat pack, this may be true. Gore, inheritor of Clinton’s high-tech connections, is creating a kitchen cabinet of advisers from computer and software industries. This year, Doerr emerged as the group’s leader.
Re-engineering the nation’s schools might seem a doable task if you think you can tame America’s richest man. Yet while Doerr is sincere in wanting to make the classroom a breeding ground for high-output knowledge, he’s a rookie when it comes to politics. And his inexperience shows. This spring Doerr took on a seemingly light political chore: He ran a vigorous drive to raise school taxes in the wealthy northern California hamlet where he lives. Despite putting his personal prestige on the line, his neighbors voted down the measure.
It was a stinging defeat and carried a lesson for any high-tech titan considering a role in politics. Doerr’s own neighbors were unwilling, it seems, to put his ideas about education into practice, even in a wealthy district where Doerr’s enthusiasm for self-reliance, limited government and the power of innovation is the common creed.
No doubt Colin Powell would have pushed through a ballot measure in his home town, even if it called for something far more controversial than improving public education. It just goes to show that the public is giving high-tech innovators more respect-but there’s still nothing like winning one war to prove you deserve the power to start another one.