Rod Blagojevich got elected governor. So can Meg Whitman be that much of a long shot?
We may find out soon. eBay's former numero uno is said to be mulling her entry into California's gubernatorial race, according to The Wall Street Journal, which adds that Whitman will decide within the next six weeks whether to try to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after his final term runs out in January 2011.
I'm not sold on the idea, but more about that in a moment. I'm sure the political consultants advising Whitman believe it's a stroke of genius. On paper, at least, Whitman does have the makings of a dream candidate: smart, successful, and super-rich. And a tech type, to boot. Well, not a pure techie. She's an MBA who made the most of the opportunity after being plucked from Hasbro's ranks to become eBay's chief executive in 1998. But close enough for the campaign materials to present her as a Silicon Valley mover and shaker.
Maybe this would have gone down well before the dot-com bubble burst. A similar story line worked for Maria Cantwell, who went from being multi-millionaire vice president of marketing at RealNetworks to becoming a U.S. senator for Washington state after winning the 2000 race. (It did not work as well for another eBay veteran, Steve Westley, a few years later. He made it as far as California controller, but then spent $35 million of his own money in a losing race against Phil Angelides for the Democratic nomination to run for governor.)
But on the eve of the most compelling transfer of national power in my lifetime, post-Wall Street meltdown, post-Bernie Madoff, post-bailout of everyone with a pulse (except you and me), we're living with a different zeitgeist. Out in the real world, where most folks are destined to lives of drudgery until they punch the clock one final time, the American Dream is on hold until further notice. Fact is that if you have a job these days, then congratulations, you're ahead of the game.
That's not the way Silicon Valley sees things. Out here, there's a widely shared belief that we're all destined to get rich. I suppose that one of the tech industry's better features is an unyielding optimism that things are destined to get better, that someone will build that better mousetrap which becomes the next big thing.
You see that at mini-conferences around here where the same strivers congregate, peering over each other's shoulder in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Golden Fleece. I don't know if this constitutes an elite as much as a self-contained community, an echo chamber where the received wisdom of libertarianism and free market capitalism gives this place its daily marching orders.
The problem for a would-be politician from this community is that the achievements of ultra-rich yuppie technocrats don't fascinate us the way they once did. Sure, infectious greed is alive and well in many corners. But with so many down and out, there's something about Barack Obama's background that touches people far more profoundly.
Maybe what Whitman needs is a season or two as a community organizer before she hits the stumps, Rudy Giuliani notwithstanding.