Pete Buttigeg is Facebook’s final stand against regulators
There’s a tweet I’ve been thinking about far too much. On Oct. 21, writer and columnist for The Intercept Kate Aronoff sent out a rather strange looking picture of Facebook CEO and possible lizard-man Mark Zuckerberg and presidential candidate Pete Buttegieg doing their best at mimicking human emotions while driving a car, captioned with the statement, “when you see a peasant being naughty.” It’s a combination of a singularly strange image and a perfect caption for the moment, and I really can’t get it out of my head.
For reference, this photo is from Zuckerberg’s incredibly ill-thought out 2017 attempt to wander around America like Forrest Gump, meeting all the small-town people he usually forgets about while ensconced in the bubble of Silicon Valley. One of those lucky country bumpkins blessed with God-King Mark’s presence was a small town college mayor who wanted to show the Facebook boss around, none other than his “new friend, Pete.” They were not in fact “new friends,” and had known each other while both attended Harvard. Sure, only one of them is played by Jesse Eisenberg in an Oscar-winning David Fincher movie about how awful they are, but presenting the Oxford-educated Buttegieg as a simple country mouse is about as honest as Zuckerberg during a Congressional hearing.
Anyway, the connection between the two goes beyond their overlap at Harvard, where Buttegieg was one of the first several hundred users of “thefacebook,” and a poorly thought out promotional car ride. Earlier this year, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan sent a detailed list of hiring recommendations of former Facebook staffers to the Buttegieg campaign, which went on to employ at least two of the people mentioned. This kind of direct corporate involvement in a presidential campaign should be raising all sorts of alarm bells.
Being open to such a nakedly opportunistic relationship is unsurprising, given that Buttegieg’s eye-popping fundraising numbers have come in no small part from a healthy relationship with Silicon Valley. The South Bend mayor’s campaign has cultivated careful relationships with tech giants, often appearing in person at $5,000-a-head fundraisers populated by employees from Uber, Google and Apple. He has made it clear to his millionaire donors that he doesn’t see tech as an “us vs them” issue, and is willing to grant them the same leeway the Obama administration did.
Clearly, there’s room for these two Harvard boys to get along, but why is Zuckerberg so urgently boosting Buttegieg as of late? It’s got nothing to do with any fond memories of their time spent in Cambridge cafes together or a shared love for blue silk ties, and has instead everything to do with a certain former economics professor residing in Massachusetts.
Fellow Democratic candidate and current front-runner Senator Elizabeth Warren has all but declared war upon Facebook, promising to use anti-trust regulations to break Facebook into pieces. If it was up to Warren, Facebook would have to spin off its prize aqquisitions like Instagram and WhatsApp into different companies, comply with new privacy and harmful content regulations, and pay its fair share in taxes.
According to a leaked audio recording released by the Verge on Oct. 1, Zuckerberg isn’t taking the news of Warren’s marching orders well, telling employees, “If she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge.”
“Does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. That’s not like the position you want to be in. We care about our country and want to work with our government to do good things,” he added. “But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
Zuckerberg, clearly spooked by the specter of regulation and Warren’s increasingly strong position in the Democratic primary, is looking for an out. Besides wining and dining prominent conservative conspiracy theorists and talking heads like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson, who might just help throw the country into another tailspin and take the heat off of corporate America, it appears that Facebook and its friends in the Valley are desperately looking for a presidential candidate to support.
Either they fully throw their weight behind Donald Trump, who is hardly a friend to Big Tech to begin with and would likely lead to many tech employees quitting their companies overnight, or they try to find a dark horse in order to prevent Warren from running away with the Democratic nomination. Certainly, Bernie Sanders — possibly the only candidate more antagonistic to Silicon Valley than Warren — is not going to be their pick. So who’s left?
Joe Biden is still not entirely sure what a smartphone is, given that his major educational initiative is trying to get parents to leave record players on at night so kids hear more words, and he lacks any sort of connection with the industry’s major players. Longtime tech ally Kamala Harris’ poll numbers keep on slumping, and her quixotic campaign to get Twitter and Facebook to delete President Trump’s social media accounts has used up a lot of the tech goodwill she earned playing footstool to Silicon Valley as California Attorney General. Amy Klobuchar is the kind of pro-business candidate that would put the kid gloves on for big tech, but Democratic voters seem to like the caustic Minnesota senator as much as her staffers, like a binder to the face.
As for everyone else, it’s likely the rest of the Democratic field won’t even make the debate stage, let alone have anywhere of a shot at taking down Warren in the critical Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary. If you really think that Andrew Yang is going to be the Democratic techno-savior, I have some fine real estate to sell you on Elon Musk’s Mars colony.
Unless the corporate set throws out Michael Bloomberg or the skeleton of Hillary Clinton as a last-ditch “anyone but Bernie or Warren” candidate, it appears that Buttegieg is the last viable hope in Facebook’s ability to influence electoral politics with their money. For the time being, Buttegieg is doing just fine, but he’s hardly breaking through to the top tier of candidates. As Warren continues to gain ground on Biden, it’ll be interesting to see how Zuckerberg and his pals react. It appears that those naughty peasants might just make life quite a bit harder for the Facebook CEO and his new best friend.