Soon after two Silicon Valley billionaires launched an online initiative to rejuvenate the Democratic Party Monday night, veteran progressive political operatives began mocking it as an out-of-touch vanity project.
Mark Pincus, co-founder of online gaming company Zynga, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman created Win The Future, or “WTF,” as a platform for crowdsourcing ideas that can sway the party in a new direction, according to Recode, which first reported the organization’s launch.
The premise of the group, based at a website of the same name, is that Democratic politicians haven’t been responsive enough to ordinary Americans. But Pincus, the chief architect, told Recode that he also has a specific policy agenda rooted in fears that the party is “already moving too far to the left” and that he’d like to make it more “pro-business.”
The thought of tech billionaires pushing a would-be grassroots agenda that happens to reflect their cosseted worldview and self-interest at a time of mounting inequality and populist anger tickled liberal strategists.
“The weakness of the Democratic Party is not due to an underrepresentation of venture capitalists and tech company board members,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, which advocates for expansion of that federal program. “The philosophical core of the Democratic Party is, and will remain, the working people who are sick and tired of politics that answers to money instead of the people.”
Pincus’ contention that the political ethos of Silicon Valley executives can help the party “be more in touch with mainstream America” is especially off-base, said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“The rich people’s social milieu is to think that the swing voter is kind of like them, which is to say progressive on social issues and regressive on corporate power, and that’s not actually where the bulk of median swing voters in America are,” Hauser said.
Billionaires such as Pincus and Hoffman “have very, very poor instincts for politics,” he said.
As an example, he noted the burst of excitement among some of the U.S. elite about the prospect of centrist billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg running for president in 2016. Indeed, in mid-2015, Pincus pitched Hoffman on his idea of raising a billion dollars on Kickstarter to try to elect Bloomberg. (Hoffman observed that Bloomberg had already looked into a White House bid and decided against it.)
Abundant polling on Americans’ political views supports Lawson and Hauser’s arguments.
Americans overwhelmingly back increasing spending on social programs, according to an April poll by the Pew Research Center. The same survey showed that a majority believe that “some” corporations and wealthy people don’t pay their “fair share” in taxes ― with about three-quarters of Democrats expressing that view.
In addition, Win The Future’s technocratic bent seems to ignore the unexpected success of President Donald Trump and the competitive bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both of whom ran populist campaigns against the reigning financial elite and the power it exerts in politics. (That Trump has stacked his cabinet with billionaires and largely abandoned his professed pro-worker economic views does not diminish how his candidacy demonstrated the appeal of anti-establishment rhetoric with the public.)
“I literally do not understand the point of this. It’s basically No Labels 2.0.”
Pincus and Hoffman, both major Democratic donors, have together sunk $500,000 into Win The Future. The site provides curious internet browsers the opportunity to support various policy proposals, including a demand that the government “offer every American a free engineering degree” and tell Congress to “fire Trump or you’re fired.” WTF promises to put ideas that get the most backing on billboards in Washington.
Jamison Foser, a senior adviser at the San Francisco-based NextGen Climate group, tweeted that even the suggestion of free engineering degrees ― reminiscent of Sanders’ call for universal free college tuition ― smacks of self-interest, given who is proposing it.
“Limiting this to engineering makes it seem like tech billionaires don’t care about education or inequality: just want to pay engineers less,” Foser wrote.
Pincus begins the venture after departing as CEO of Zynga in March of 2016. The company, which created onetime hit social network game FarmVille, had difficulty transitioning to the field of mobile apps and its lagging profits reflected that.
“I am not sure the creators of the lamest and the most annoying social media experiences are the exact people who should be rewiring the philosophical core of the Democratic Party as they say they want to,” Lawson said.
Pincus and Hoffman toyed with the idea of campaigning against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, two California Democrats up for re-election in 2018 who they see as out-of-touch, but decided against it for the launch, according to Recode.
“We’d like to see either political outsiders or politicians who are ready to put the people ahead of their career,” Pincus told the outlet.
One of the “political outsiders” Pincus is trying to recruit is Stephan Jenkins, frontman for 1990s rock band Third Eye Blind.
Wealthy centrists have already invested vast sums of money in technocratic schemes to reform government, with mixed success.
Hauser compared Win The Future to No Labels, a Washington-based group that pushes bipartisan process changes such as filibuster reform and has largely fizzled in its efforts.
“I literally do not understand the point of this. It’s basically No Labels 2.0,” Hauser said.
What’s more, Hauser noted, the site’s creators failed to buy domains with similar names like winningthefuture.com, a basic feature of successful political-website building that prevents devastating trolling.
That doesn’t mean there’s no place for Hoffman and Pincus to try their hand at politics, Hauser suggested ― they are just trying it in the wrong party.
“It would be much more valuable for the world if sane, but conservative, self-protective rich people who are against bigotry and recognize that climate science is real became forces within the Republican Party and supported sane Republicans in primaries rather than water down the message of the Democratic Party and its commitment to economic equality and social justice,” he said.