Cover image for How to hack a party line : the Democrats and Silicon Valley
How to hack a party line : the Democrats and Silicon Valley
Miles, Sarah.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Physical Description:
246 pages ; 25 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


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JS451.C29 S35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Author Notes

Sara Miles has covered the politics of Silicon Valley for Wired and Wired News. Her work has also appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Out Magazine. She lives in San Francisco.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Readers fascinated by either national politics or Silicon Valley will definitely want to read this vivid narrative of the sometimes explosive juxtaposition of these two highly idiosyncratic subcultures. Miles, who covers politics for Wired and recently wrote "The Nasdaq-ing of Capitol Hill" for the New York Times Magazine, was a fly on the wall at dozens of committee meetings, cocktail parties, brainstorming sessions, fund-raisers, and lobbying trips that marked the stages in the development of an alliance between New Democrats and the New Economy. She describes key activists (Wade Randlett, John Doerr, John Witchel, Simon Rosenberg, David Ellington), organizations (the Democratic Leadership Council, TechNet, the New Democrat Network,, and issues (including opposition to California's Proposition 211, which gave stockholders broader rights to sue corporate executives, telecommunications and biotech regulation, trade with China, access to foreign-born engineers, and the shifting meaning of the "digital divide" ). An involving, sometimes appalling "sausage-making" tale of a political courtship whose consequences may be substantial. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

With billions in revenues and little political affiliation, Silicon Valley in the early 1990s was a jewel waiting to be snatched by either major party. The Democrats acted first, due largely to the efforts of Wade Randlett, the main figure in Miles's lively, firsthand account of the awakening of Silicon Valley's political consciousness and the wrangling that ensued. Randlett, an independent fundraiser and democratic political consultant, saw a chance to become an important player on Vice-President Al Gore's team by serving as the primary conduit between the Valley and Washington. Miles shows how Randlett, with significant backing from the powerful venture capitalist John Doerr, organized the mostly apolitical business and technical leaders of the Valley in a successful effort to defeat California's Proposition 211, designed to allow for shareholder lawsuits against California executives. Following the proposition's defeat in 1996, Randlett and Doerr formed TechNet, the first major political action committee to represent the interests of the Valley's high-tech companies. With Randlett's party ties and Gore's eagerness to be associated with the New Economy, TechNet tended to favor New Democrats. But as thoroughly as Miles charts the dynamics that tied the Valley to Washington, she writes in something of a vacuum. Though Gore's relationship to Silicon Valley is a major focus, Miles refers only passingly to his nomination in 2000 and fails to discuss the Valley's role in his campaign. She also overlooks the possible effects of the New Economy's crash on Silicon Valley's political influence. Given the current postelection turmoil, Miles's book is the victim of events happening at Internet-speed. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This unique title in the bloated literature on Silicon Valley discusses the relationship between politics and the new millionaires in the high-tech industry. Miles, who has covered the Valley's political scene for Wired and Wired News, focuses on the role of these millionaires in presidential elections. The Democratic Party is the beneficiary of the increasingly politically active Silicon Valley magnates, who had a major influence on the campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The author uses case studies to describe this recent trend. For example, Wade Randlett's major role in TechNet, a political action committee representing Silicon Valley, is discussed. Also described are Randlett' s fundraising activities for the Democratic Party and his lobbying efforts, including rallying against California's Proposition 211 (which would have allowed stockholders to sue executives). Miles relates the reaction of Silicon Valley to the Microsoft antitrust case and to the Clinton impeachment hearings. A fascinating study of two worlds and their complex interrelationship, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.DLucy Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One It was a perfect California morning in the fall of 1996, with the radio reporting a warm front and a hot market, and Wade Randlett was driving fast down Highway 280 toward Silicon Valley, laughing into a cell phone. With his wire-rimmed shades and suspenders, the dark-haired thirty-one-year-old could pass for a successful investment banker, except that he seemed to be having too much fun.     At Sand Hill Road, tires squealing, Randlett turned and raced his black Audi coupe up the landscaped driveway leading to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Silicon Valley's most prestigious venture-capital firm.     The car phone rang again. Randlett slowed to forty-five. It was the White House. "I'll call you back," he said, casually. I'd met Wade Randlett in July 1996, after months of pointless phone calls to various highly paid press secretaries and officials at the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton-Gore election campaign, and the California Democratic campaign headquarters. They were polite when I asked who was in charge of organizing the young entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley for Clinton--"You know, computers, the Internet," I'd say helpfully. "Who's working on that?"--but none of the professional Democrats had a clue. Finally, an embittered union rep I'd met at a party told me about Wade Randlett, a fund-raiser and campaign consultant she thought was connected. "He's one of those right-wing New Democrat boys," she said, her voice dripping with distaste. "Young, arrogant, hates unions, loves rich people. He'll probably know."     Randlett was working out of his home, a small stucco in a pleasantly suburban part of San Francisco, across the street from a parochial school. A Great Dane the size of a sofa got to the door first, but Randlett reached a hand around and greeted me without interrupting his phone conversation. "We've got a twelve-couple that night at fifty a couple," he went on, motioning me in. "Breakfast, no press." A dining-room table was piled high with towers of paper, files, and newspapers, a fax machine in the corner was spewing out documents, and there was a row of Styrofoam coffee cups adorning the mantel. Randlett was typing something into his notebook computer as he talked, and trying to ignore the other ringing phone. The dog lay down. Apart from a suit jacket draped over a chair and a strangely formal glass bookcase holding two framed photos and a dusty bottle of wine, there were no personal effects. The place looked as if someone had just moved in, or out. It looked like the desolate post-divorce wreck of someone who had married too young. It looked like a campaign.     Wade Randlett was a ridiculously handsome man. Tall and deep-voiced, with impeccable public manners and ruthless backroom savvy, he seemed almost physically propelled by ambition. In his early twenties, much as less imaginative members of his generation had taken up extreme sports, Randlett had hurled himself into politics. Now he was playing in the big leagues, building Silicon Valley's first political machine, and years of ferocious intensity and practice were paying off.     I liked Randlett, almost as much as I found him appalling. He had a great laugh grafted over a bottomless capacity for conspiracy. Randlett's personality reflected what I thought of as some of the worst traits of politics and of Silicon Valley combined--aggression, arrogance, and ambition--yet he was neither venal nor dishonest. He was personally generous, professionally cutthroat, and had a wholehearted, contagious enthusiasm for his work. "Hop in," he'd say to me, handing me a cold drink and opening the door to his Audi. "Let's drive down to Palo Alto, and I'll fill you in on the story."     Reared in Danville, one of the whitest, wealthiest, and most Republican strongholds of the San Francisco Bay Area, Randlett had set off for Princeton in the early eighties without any particular signs of political ambition. He carried the usual badges of affluence--good teeth, excellent schooling, and a few perfect navy-blue suits--and an unshakable confidence in his own abilities. The country was in the middle of the Reagan years, and Randlett rejected Reagan Republicanism with a visceral distaste. "First there was their social outlook: Let's all go back to 1952," he said, summing up Reagan's Morning in America vision. "Then there was their idea of economics: screw the environment, don't invest in education, let business do whatever it likes and piss on the rest." And though he had even less patience for "politically correct leftist whiners," Randlett became a vocal pro-choice Democratic activist on campus and a defender of individual liberties.     In 1987, Randlett returned to the Bay Area to earn a law degree, but the life of an upscale lawyer struck him as a fundamental waste of time. "Everyone I knew was a lawyer," he said dismissively. Instead he went to work for George Marcus, a wealthy Greek-American real-estate developer in San Jose and a prominent Northern California fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. Marcus would, in the next decade, become chairman of the largest investment-real-estate brokerage firm in the country, and one of Silicon Valley's top ten political donors. "I was as low as lowly gets, just hanging around and trying to see what I could learn," Randlett said, trying to sound modest. "I made ten thousand cold calls my first year."     Before long, Randlett had set up shop as an independent fund-raiser and political consultant, working out of San Jose and hustling for stalwarts of the California Democratic Party like Dianne Feinstein, John Garamendi, Zoe Lofgren, and Art Torres. For nearly a decade, Randlett practiced the art of campaign fund-raising, developing a remarkable talent for getting complete strangers to write him checks for $50,000. He understood as well as anyone the nuances of the personal check, the corporate check, the check that was in the mail. He knew how to cold-call, how to bid a donor up, how to make one gift the occasion for the next. "I'm talking money ," he'd say happily as he opened the envelopes. "Money, money, money, money, money."     Randlett's fund-raising style relied heavily on the extraordinarily effective, if contradictory, mélange of class cues he exuded. He could use his prep-school manners and hand-sewn loafers to make his utter lack of embarrassment about asking for money seem clubbily upper-class, then switch in a heartbeat to flawless middle-American male jocularity, pitching as relentlessly as a salesman with a quota to fill.     Randlett had come of political age at a moment when money's rule over politics was a given, a matter of fact--not a trend to be deplored with high-minded whining about the corruption of civic values. Laments about campaign finance were tacky and old-fashioned, Randlett felt, and he affected a blunt, contemporary realism about the way the system worked.     "Money, money, money, money," he repeated. "If you don't understand it, it looks corrupt. But if you like someone, and they like you, there's nothing wrong with giving them money. It gets a conversation started."     Skilled as he was at the task, though, Randlett was too ambitious to spend his life dialing for dollars. Fund-raising occupied an odd position in the hierarchy of political parties: the work was both crass and essential. Good fund-raisers stitched together the networks that would support a campaign, set the candidate's schedule and priorities, learned everyone's secrets, and kept the whole enterprise afloat. In return, they were courted assiduously, rewarded handsomely, and regularly condescended to by snotty twenty-four-year-old political staffers. Like pollsters, fund-raisers earned a lot of money. But they were not supposed to engage in "real" politics themselves: they were considered technicians, rather than thinkers, and were expected to know their place.     Not that Randlett tried to present himself as a thinker; he was way too shrewd for that. Policy guys were even more marginal than fund-raisers when it came to real politics; in a campaign, being tagged as an intellectual was the kiss of death. Unlike a lot of young political operatives, Randlett resisted the urge to craft complicated, subtle arguments in order to show off his intelligence. "That's just dumb," he'd say instead, airily, dismissing an opponent's carefully worked out thesis, or "Everyone knows that's stupid. It's bad. It sucks." As a rule, he tried to sound uninterested in the fine points of policy debates. He usually won them.     What Wade Randlett did want, badly, was power. He wanted to be able to promote his ideas about politics, to make things happen in the Democratic Party, and to affect the country at large. His ideology was centrism, and he argued for it with the intensity of an evangelical. "You're making a big mistake if you think moderates feel moderately about politics," Randlett said. "I am passionately centrist. Goddamn it, I believe in the center."     Randlett had stayed liberal on social issues like abortion and gun control, while staking out a pro-capitalist, antiunion stand on business and economic issues. Like many of his contemporaries who hailed a moderate "Third Way," eschewing both boomer liberalism and rigid conservatism, Randlett was a devoted Democrat. Like them, he took pains to identify himself, though, as a "New Democrat," which meant that he was intent on steering the Democratic Party away from "failed socialist experiments," such as the New Deal or the Great Society, that tried to redistribute wealth and regulate business.     Randlett was contemptuous of the angry moralizing of right-wing Republicans whose political agenda centered around such narrow issues as homosexuality, school prayer, and the right to life. Democratic moderates, he felt, were the only hope for the country. "The left lost," he liked to point out. "They're history. The conservatives hate the modern world. I'm a real progressive, because I'm the only one who believes in the future."     Randlett also believed in winning. As a political fund-raiser and consultant to candidates, he wanted to steer Democrats toward the center because it would increase their chances of victory. As he saw it, liberalism was responsible for the Democrats' de[eat at the hands of Ronald Reagan; liberalism was what had turned ordinary voters away from Democrats; and liberalism was why businesspeople mistrusted his party. The Democrats had become a minority party, he felt, because they had failed to recognize that the overall sentiment of voters in the mid-1990s was centrist, not liberal or extreme right-wing. In California, his moderate candidates, like Zoe Lofgren, had won. Success for the Democratic Party nationally, Randlett was convinced, lay in electing moderate New Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore--pro-business politicians with mainstream social values and excellent marketing skills.     Like most campaign professionals, Randlett saw little percentage in spending time or money courting partisan true believers. Both Democratic "Jesse Jackson lefties" and Republican "Bible-thumpers," he argued, were a minority within their parties, and, despite their grumbling, the least likely to jump ship in a general election. At the end of the day, labor would always vote Democratic; NRA activists would stick with the Republicans. A winning strategy had to target less ideological, more moderate voters--the great majority of the electorate--even if these swing voters were, by definition, not as interested in politics as the hard-core base. Randlett was determined to push his party in the direction he knew it should go. "Whoever gets to the center faster," he said flatly, "wins." (Continues...) Copyright (c) 2001 Sara Miles. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Wiring the networkp. 3
Part 2 Bugsp. 77
Part 3 Workaroundsp. 133
Part 4 System crashp. 193
Part 5 Tech politics 3.0p. 225