Congratulations … you're running for president! And furthermore, like just about every other viable contender, from Richardson to Ron Paul, you've been invited to Google to speak. Now you have to figure out what to say to win the hearts of the Silicon Valley dwellers, and maybe get their votes and (especially) their moolah. Here's a quick primer on what to say when you're at the podium at the Googleplex.
You're an entrepreneur at heart. So what if you've spent the last decade or two on the government payroll, legislating the degree of regulation that businesses must endure? In spirit you're a swashbuckling risk-taker who loves nothing more than the unchained innovation that will keep our country ahead in the rigorous global competition. Don't forget to remind these wireheads how they are responsible for everything good that's happened to the economy in the past 15 years. They've heard it before, but they won't complain about hearing it again.
What's ailing America? Not enough H1-B visas! Everyone in the tech business, from Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr on down, says that the ruination of the industry, if not the entire country, will come from the inability to hire more brainiacs from countries like China and India. Currently there's a cap of how many of these highly educated engineers, scientists and other professionals can come to the United States to work. So the surest way to please your techie hosts is to say, as did Hillary Clinton when she visited the Valley, that you will raise the cap. Make sure you plan for long, sustained applause when you say this. And keep saying it. If you are interviewed by Michael Arrington, of the popular Tech Crunch blog (he's doing a series of conversations with candidates on tech issues), just say what Mitt Romney said to him: "I like H1-B visas!" If you suspect that some of the reason the Valley wants to open the door to geniuses from abroad is to spend less for high-end labor (at the expense of Americans wanting the same jobs), keep those thoughts to yourself and hope that Lou Dobbs doesn't get a clip of your speech, as he did with Hillary's. Put icing on the cake by mentioning a litany of outsiders who came to America to build businesses. (Remember, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Russia. If we hadn't let him in, where would we be? We couldn't even Google him!)
You'll be the Education President. Bravely make the claim that you're in favor of improving the quality of American students. If you're a Democrat, just be careful not to say you'll fire incompetent teachers. And since this is California, don't imply that tax money should actually pay for education. They don't like that in the Golden State.
Broadband for all Americans by [fill in a number]! George W. Bush promised that every American would have access to broadband by 2007. Unless cosmic aliens send a Wi-Max system to Earth via hyperspace in the next couple of weeks, that's not going to happen. But since these Internet companies will be huge beneficiaries of ubiquitous broadband, let them know that during your first term everyone will have fast broadband. Pick a year. John Edwards says 2010. When John McCain showed up for an interview at the San Jose Mercury News early this year, he was accompanied by Cisco CEO John Chambers, the Valley's unofficial ambassador of broadband; when Chambers lectured the Merc about the importance of broadband, all the senator had to do was say, "He's right." If someone asks just how you'll make this happen, mumble something about how "universal service" worked with telephones, but don't get too specific. Opponents will call your plan a tax increase.
Extend the Internet Tax Moratorium until … eternity! Congress recently extended the ban on taxing the Net until 2014. Maybe then we'll know if this Internet thing is for real. Let it be known that you're not only in favor of the extension but are already worried about what will happen seven years from now, when that plum might be snatched away. Besides, you'll sell more copies of your autobiography if people don't have to pay taxes when they buy it on Amazon.
Agree with Eric—but don't make promises. If, after you forcefully address the above issues, Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits down with you for further discussion, nod vigorously at his every concern. But don't get overly specific. When it comes to "Net neutrality," emphasize that you certainly want the Internet to thrive by letting every start-up get its shot—but don't shoot yourself in the foot by spelling out how you'd regulate it. (That would alienate the cable companies and the telcos.) Antitrust is another minefield, as tech companies change their minds on this depending on who's in the sights of the government. (Microsoft hated antitrust regulations when it was a target in the '90s, but now it seems to think that it's OK to go after Google.) And if you're a GOP candidate who is also courting evangelicals, be very careful—someone might blindside you with a question about evolution, which geeks seem to believe in.
If you feel uncomfortable discussing any matter, just utter the universal Silicon Valley safety word: innovation. It's like pulling out catnip. Keep repeating that, and you'll be fine.
Oh, and when you're at Google, make sure they take you to the biggest of their 17 free cafeterias, Charlie's Cafe. It's a great break from all that junk you have to eat at county fairs.