Silicon Valley

How conservatives can appeal to the surging
American web-culture

By Kevin Jiang

“It’s just one more example of the fertile imagination of the Internet. More stuff like this will be popping up all the time.”

~President (then Sen. (D-IL)) Barack Obama on the famous “Obama Girl” video.

At first glance, this quote would seem simply to be Barack Obama commenting on a simple video featuring himself. In fact, whether he knew it or not, Mr. Obama’s comment defined the modern phenomenon that is drastically reshaping American politics: the rising influence of the Silicon Valley culture. It is quickly becoming a political force that the Republican Party can ill-afford to ignore, and unlike some other influential sub-cultures, one that conservatives have the complete ability to harness for its own gain.


 What Fertile Imagination?

However, before speculating on how this particular culture will affect the future of American conservatism, we must take a moment to definitively establish what this “Silicon Valley” culture I’ve introduced really is. Admittedly, the name is fairly misleading, as the culture finds itself spread far beyond the miniscule boundaries of the Santa Clara Valley; as trite as it may seem, it exists in every household with an internet connection. The use of this name is necessary only to differentiate this culture from the classical perception of the internet’s users: the swarms of simpletons that hide behind anonymity, screaming epithets such as, “GTFO my interwebs noob, lolololol” at anything and everything. What this culture truly encompasses is, essentially, the core of today’s technological and creative elite: from the obvious (innovators of thriving internet businesses, such as the founders of YouTube), to the anonymous, (the thousands of part-time programmers that are the backbone of open-source Linux), to the simply charismatic (Amber Ettinger, the aforementioned Obama Girl). Every member of this internet subculture uses the internet as a conduit for inspired, intelligent, and addictive creations. While many do reside within the confines of Silicon Valley, they truly could be anywhere and everywhere at once, making them eccentric, brilliant, important, influential, and alarmingly, overwhelmingly liberal.


 Politics for Everyone

The power of this demographics’ rise in influence was put on display in the 2008 presidential election, nearly single-handedly turning Barack Obama from a niche Democratic hopeful into the 44th President of the United States. Drawing money, support, and exposure from the vast possibilities that the internet provided him, Obama’s campaign managed to topple American political mainstays in Hillary Clinton and John McCain. It is in that last trait, exposure, that the Silicon Valley subculture truly displayed its political clout. Whereas, a candidate’s campaign once depended on wealth and professional ad-men, now, amateurs with simply a creative idea and an internet connection created ads, posters, and most importantly buzz for politicians, without any professional campaign advisor lifting a single finger. Additionally, when official advertisements were released, this culture made sure that the materials reached as many people as possible. And it was not just those with internet connects that were influenced by these campaign contributions; some of these creations became not only part of the web’s culture, but popular culture—the subject of casual conversation and evening news, making it nearly impossible not to have encountered such political campaigning. Almost single-handedly, this tactic managed to rally voters that never gave a second look to the American political process and did what a traditional campaign could never do: achieve nearly worldwide exposure, all without using a single campaign fund. What resulted was that 49.3 to 54.5 percent of voters 18-24 years old showed up to vote, a youth turnout rivaling only that of 1972; the first year 18 year olds were permitted to cast ballots. Add that to hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by members of Microsoft and IBM, technological mainstays, and the profound influence of the “Silicon Valley” culture cannot be denied. 

It was not just mainstream candidates that reaped the benefits of this new society. Even candidates without any hope of contending for high office became known names, almost entirely through the abilities of the Silicon Valley culture. Mike Gravel was never considered a threatening candidate for the presidency, yet he found publicity in his confusingly simple, yet intriguing YouTube “Rock” ad. Similarly, the culture rewarded the craziness of Dennis Kucinich with a sizable following, drawn to him for his peculiarity and his intense ideals. This following grew to the point where some polls showed the clearly lower-tier candidate as high as 4th among Democratic primary hopefuls. It seems then that those who benefit from the Silicon Valley culture run the gamut from top level candidates, to the most obscure of niche politicians. However, there is one similarity among all of these examples: they are all Democrats.


Making the Right Turn

There are many reasons why this prominent demographic seems so devoid of a right-wing presence, but they all boil down to one main problem, the party line. The Republican Party has long run with a party line of moral value, business, and national security, and before the rise of the Silicon Valley culture, it was a very effective strategy. Nonetheless, what was once a winning formula that attracted droves to the conservative cause, has since become distorted into something that the Silicon Valley demographic and its followers cannot latch onto. Fervent focus on “family values,” such as traditional marriage and pro-life, has pinned the conservative cause with a reputation of hate-mongering. Likewise, conservative commitment to religion has created the impression that Republicans are against science and technology, the spiritual home of the Silicon Valley culture. Justified or not, this misrepresentation of ideals turns the culture against conservatism, and threatens to alienate the masses of citizens that are influenced by it every day. Similarly, in the pursuit of pro-business issues, conservatives are constructed as epitomes of corporate domination and manipulative big business, yet another mortal enemy of the largely informal, do-it-yourself silicon culture. Even national security has become a target for the scrutiny of this new demographic, almost entirely because of the PATRIOT Act. As a culture that values the potential anonymity that the internet provides them, the invasions of privacy that were permitted under the name of national security became yet another reason not to trust conservative politicians. Unfortunately, the ill perception of the Republican Party has not been helped by its own presence on the internet community. Instead of intellectual, reasonable conservatives, the right-wing of the internet is rife with polarizing figures; from intense radicals like Michelle Malkin, to crazed conspiracy theorists, leaving the Silicon Valley culture no other option than to turn to the left. That is not to say, however, that to win the Silicon Valley culture and the gather the benefits of its influence, the Republican party must abandon, or even drastically alter its core beliefs. Surprisingly, some of the most common values within the Silicon Valley culture are not liberal values, but rather fall in line with some of the right-wing’s most basic philosophies. It then becomes the responsibility of the party not to remove itself from its traditional base, but to begin to establish a new party line, one that hones in on the core values of the Silicon Valley culture.

            The crucial lynchpin to this new party line is, in fact, a conviction that is a founding principle of modern conservatism: individualism. As one might have already gleaned, the influence of the Silicon Valley culture is rooted firmly in amateur content. It is a culture built primarily on the idea that individuals and informal communities have the capability to not only equal formal government and corporate productivity, but actually exceed it. The rapid growth of Firefox ideally illustrates this characteristic of the Silicon Valley culture. Entering a market dominated by a corporate mainstay in Internet Explorer, Firefox quickly gained a following among the Silicon Valley culture. Entirely through the efforts of unnamed contributors, all sharing merely a commitment to the open-source community, the source code of Firefox was fine tuned, upgraded, and adapted faster than any formally run entity could ever wish to be. A renewed focus on the individuality and libertarianism that originally shaped the rise of conservatism during Ronald Reagan has the potential to connect with the Silicon Valley culture on a level that no liberal ideal would ever be able to. The potential appeal of this libertarianism was present, even in the Democratic dominated 2008 Presidential election, in what simply became known as the Ron Paul Revolution. While hardly the ideal spokesperson for the Republican Party as a whole, the massive internet following that Ron Paul acquired is a case study in the potential that the Silicon Valley culture has for American conservatives.  At final count, Ron Paul’s campaign had raised over 30 million dollars almost solely from individual donors rallied in large part because of the Silicon Valley culture. This same culture helped propel the candidate to a 4th place finish in the primary, and, more notably, his single, simple ideal of individual freedom to the forefront of the minds of voters across the country.  In order to seize on the opportunity that the Ron Paul Revolution allotted the Republican Party, it becomes necessary for the party to supplement the ideal of personal freedom that so resonated with the Silicon Valley culture with some other key conservative topics.

In order to win over the Silicon Valley culture, Republicans must start from its epicenter, the Santa Clara Valley itself, an area that voted overwhelmingly (69.6 percent) for Barack Obama. Silicon Valley is home to hundreds of technology businesses, some of them large, such as Google and HP, but many of them simply small, aspiring internet startups. These small businesses provide the opening needed to ground the cultures support for the Republican Party. As hinted at beforehand, the key to the support of these companies lies in supporting their growth while protecting them from the overarching intervention of bigger business and bigger government. In one sense, conservatives already support the interests of Silicon Valley, they just don’t know it yet. In pushing for corporate friendly legislation, Republicans have long looked to bolster entrepreneurship in the United States; however, they have let their opposition characterize their efforts as attempts to prop up corporate bullies rather than aide small business. In order to show the Silicon Valley culture the true extent of its conservative support, the Republican Party must make a push to redefine what corporate conservatism means. By throwing its weight behind such small business friendly technological legislation like net neutrality, a sweetheart topic among the Silicon Valley culture, the Republican Party will be allotted ample opportunity to win over the hearts of the Silicon Valley culture, and in turn be able to harness what will quickly become the new model for the archetypical American Dream.


A Step in the Right Direction

            Despite the relative domination of liberal thinking within the Silicon Valley culture, there is evidence that Republican Party has achieved a foothold within this influential culture, opening the door for conservatives into this elite demographic. As Scott Brown’s surprise win in Massachusetts proved, even the most liberal of political spheres is capable of swinging to the right. It is simply up to conservatives to see that gaining the support of the Silicon Valley culture would be akin to the conservative resurgence under Reagan in political impact. The next case study must be California, home of Silicon Valley. Both leading conservatives for in the 2010 Gubernatorial and Senatorial campaigns trace their roots directly back to the technological culture: Meg Whitman with eBay and Carly Fiorina with HP. Their showings, whether they win or not, in the California elections will provide a vital litmus test into how well the conservative cause can adapt to the Silicon Valley culture, and conversely how the culture can adapt to conservatives. Ms. Whitman and Ms. Fiorina are only the beginning, however, because despite their connections they both represent the corporate aspect of Silicon Valley, not the core communities. It falls then on young conservatives to steer the party toward the Silicon Valley culture. By expanding the example set by the 2008 National election and the 2010 Massachusetts and California elections, a new conservative resurgence, with a young, technologically inclined Silicon culture at its base, is a very possible achievement.