There’s a new revolving door in Washington: And this time, it leads to San Francisco.
News reports surfaced yesterday that Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch’s predecessor as U.S. Attorney General, will be working with home-rental startup Airbnb to draft a “world-class anti-discrimination policy” for the company. Airbnb has faced various controversies about people with stereotypically African-American surnames being turned down for rentals through the platform, and is now in the process of figuring out a way to reverse that trend. Holder’s hiring makes perfect sense: As a black man and one of the most famous legal figures in the country, he’s optically perfect, presumably prepared for the task ahead of him, and sends the message that Airbnb is serious about tackling their discrimination problem. Whether Holder will actually accomplish anything is frankly beside the point: The important thing is that Airbnb looks like it’s doing something.
Holder’s move to the San Francisco-based firm isn’t a random one-off. Instead, it’s part of a pattern that has taken hold in the last eight years: Obama administration officials have, en masse, headed to San Francisco and Silicon Valley after leaving Washington.
Here’s a brief list, by no means all-inclusive. David Plouffe, once Obama’s campaign manager and later his senior advisor, has a high-level gig at Uber. Kyle O’Connor, a chief Obama speechwriter, moved to Nest after leaving Washington, and now works in communications for Facebook. Bobby Whithorne and Dan Pfeiffer — the former a White House writer and assistant press secretary, the latter a White House communications director and senior advisor — both now ply their trade for GoFundMe. Tommy Vietor and Jon Favreau, respectively a former spokesman and speechwriting director, left the White House to found Fenway Strategies, a boutique consulting firm based in San Francisco, despite its Bostonian name. Former press secretary Jay Carney now works for Amazon (which is, admittedly, from Seattle). This is just a smattering of the former Obama administration members who have walked through the revolving door; I could go on for hours listing them all.
It’s not all that remarkable that White House officials, their time in Washington having come to an end, would go into a high-earning field. After all, they’ve worked hard for the government, and now they want to see some monetary payout. What’s remarkable is that so many of them go not just to the same geographic space of San Francisco — in another time, they all would have gone to New York — but that they’re all now, in some way, in the tech field.
That’s not especially surprising. The stereotype of Silicon Valley is that it’s full of young, highly ambitious men, eager to live the good life in San Francisco and change — sorry, “disrupt” — the world while they’re at it. That description applies perfectly to the people I listed above, nearly all of whom are relatively young men who have recently toiled at the levers of power. And even if you’re not a young man, the tech industry seems like the future, where progress is happening on a day-to-day basis. Eric Holder’s Airbnb position gives him an opportunity to do what he did as attorney general — fight discrimination, real or supposed — in the private sector. If you’re done with politics but still want a hand in the creation of the new world, plus affiliation with the cultural libertarianism-cum-authoritarianism that has characterized the Obama administration, you go to San Francisco.