Crafty Uber Knows How To Make A Fool Of Politicians

Posted on August 12, 2015 by - Also by this author

Hey Jeb, beware of accepting rides from strangers. The third Bush to seek the Presidency puts on his seat belt getting into an Uber car after speaking at Thumbtack, an online startup, Thursday, July 16, 2015, in San Francisco.
Hey Jeb, beware of accepting rides from strangers. The third Bush to seek the Presidency puts on his seat belt getting into an Uber car after speaking at Thumbtack, an online startup, Thursday, July 16, 2015, in San Francisco.

The quadrennial Presidential election silly season started this month, with candidates campaigning and debating far ahead of the public appetite for them. It reminds me of Halloween store promotions in early August and Christmas trees at Costco in mid-September; too much, too soon.

So this is peak time for candidate amusements as they posture for attention. Among attention-getters are strategies to appease and court Uber under the assumption that  aligning with the transportation network company will charm younger, app-driven voters. (What, you mean they’re not watching MTV anymore?)

Let the record show Republican candidate Jeb Bush as the first TNC cheerleader to get burned.

While taking an Uber ride as part of a publicity stunt in San Francisco last month, the former Florida governor met an Uber driver who plans to vote for. . . Hillary, a staunch foe of what she calls the “gig” economy. Meanwhile, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who constantly thumps libertarian themes, has publicly praised Obamacare, which by all accounts has added regulations to the health care market in the same way regulators want to add more rules for TNCs. And Jeb opposes Obamacare.

Leaving aside the idiocy of Kalanick and the random driver, the irony here is that Jeb and any number of candidates are parroting the free-spirited needs of the Uber economy while Uber goes its merry way pursuing best interests. It doesn’t care whether it seduces a Republican or Democrat in its quest to ignore rules, influence rules or apply rules to a competitor, whatever works. Uber would  just as easily try to buy off Hillary as it would Jeb if the moment and purpose were right.

Uber may deliver Florida Sen. Marco Rubio a painful lesson in political alliances.
Uber may deliver Florida Sen. Marco Rubio a painful lesson in political alliances.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made a similar move last year while visiting Uber headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We should never allow government power and government regulations to be used to protect an establishment incumbent industry at the expense of an innovative competitor,” he said. Left unanswered was the reverse situation, which is the core of the TNC-taxi-limo conundrum: “What about government power and regulations being used to favor a rich, innovative, billion-dollar competitor at the expense of law-abiding incumbents?”

Politicians at all levels are deluding themselves if they think Uber and TNCs are beacons of freedom. Mega-corporations can be erratic beasts, doling out treats and exploiting tricks to suit their short and long-term goals. Wall Street swung to Obama in 2008, and to Romney in 2012. The intersection of TNCs and politics once again underscores the risks of trying to be the “Silicon Valley candidate,” the “Wall Street candidate,” the “free trade candidate,” or the “youth candidate.” Unfortunately, there’s nothing exciting about being the “referee candidate,” who respects the law and whose primary allegiance is to the equality of opportunity under the law.

By the way, anyone remember the battle to become the "Napster candidate?" Presidential contenders may want to review some techno-political history.

Principles don’t stand tall when rooted in popular trends or fads. Uber, however, should be credited with proving one fixed ideal: It knows how to take politicians for a ride.

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