270 Strategies


The Disruption Candidate

Ro Khanna, an intellectual-property lawyer and an economics lecturer at Stanford, is running for Congress in California's Seventeenth District. Because that district roughly overlaps with Silicon Valley, and because Khanna is a relative political novice running against a popular incumbent, his metaphor was predestined: a disruptive startup company. In this metaphor, Khanna, who is thirty-seven, is the hot-shot founder; his opponent, Mike Honda, who is seventy-three and has served in the House for fourteen years, is an out-of-touch grandpa.

Khanna and Honda are both socially liberal Democrats, and they agree on most policy issues; their primary disagreements are over labor policies and tax loopholes. Honda, who has called for a federal Entrepreneur-in-Residence, is hardly hurling rocks at Google buses. Still, Khanna is eager to be seen as the more aggressively tech-friendly and "pro-business" of the two. The refrain, from Khanna and his supporters, is that he "gets it." (What he "gets," essentially, to borrow the title of a 2010 book, is "What Technology Wants.") When Barack Obama ran for President, he leaned on tropes like "hope" and "change"; Khanna, like many residents of the South Bay, places his hope in "innovation" and "entrepreneurship." In his 2012 book, "Entrepreneurial Nation," Khanna wrote that "manufacturing is essential for American innovation." Jeremy Bird, who worked on the Obama campaign in 2012 and is now a consultant for the Khanna campaign, said, "Innovation and entrepreneurialism can drive our country forward. Ro gets that."

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