Forget the Iran nuclear deal. What’s your position on Uber?

Tread carefully.

That would be my advice to presidential hopefuls using Uber and the other so-called “sharing economy” companies for campaign fodder.

Fusion declared the 2016 presidential race the “Uber Election.” “Uber enters the presidential race,” said Fortune.

This week, in her first economic policy speech as a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton knocked the “gig” economy in which independent contractors scramble for work with few legal protections, as I noted in a post.

Prospective GOP presidential nominees like Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio fired back, praising Uber, as Politico reported, in an effort to gain some tech credibility.

Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, has already declared himself the “Uber” of the presidential hopefuls, in that he wants his campaign to be “disruptive.”

Not be outdone is Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida who recently said Americans need to work longer hours in order to boost economic growth. His campaign released a statement blasting Clinton, according to The Hill, claiming that her “antiquated proposals protect the special interests that want to stifle American ingenuity and 21st Century companies like Uber that are creating jobs,” it read.

On Thursday, Bush plans to hail an Uber when he’s in San Francisco visiting Thumbtack, a startup that’s an Uber for services such as painters, carpenters, etc.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Hannon, the chief technology officer of Clinton’s campaign, writing in Medium, said that the former secretary of state is pro-technology:

I’ve been surprised to see these common-sense comments get misrepresented as an attack on the sharing economy. As Hillary mentioned, the sharing economy is creating exciting new opportunities that are helping Americans work more flexible hours and earn a little bit of extra cash by renting out a spare room, selling products they design themselves, or even driving their own car.

But Clinton wants voters to think about workers who are vulnerable:

And as we navigate uncharted seas in this new economy, Hillary wants to guarantee that all workers are being protected and rewarded for their hard work. She’s not calling out specific sectors, or any one company, but is addressing an economy-wide problem that has existed for years. We’ve seen some employers take advantage of vulnerable workers in industries like construction, janitorial services, agriculture, and even home healthcare.

This is, of course, the silly period of the presidential primary campaign seasons in which candidates test ideas to see what resonates with voters and what might differentiate themselves from one another.

Donald Trump has had some success saber-rattling on the issue of the border and immigration. In the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney attacked China on the issue of intellectual property theft.

Holding up Uber and others as a model of American ingenuity is tricky when the companies face multiple legal challenges and regulators over how they treat contractors. It’s not hard to wonder how much these firms’ valuations would deflate if they were to lose key rulings.

Likewise, as local elected officials have discovered when they have tried to take a stand on Uber or Airbnb, knocking the sharing economy can make a candidate look outdated and anti-populist. After all, many constituents are likely providing services through these companies or using them.

Being campaign fodder is treacherous ground for the companies as well. The free publicity has some upsides, sure, but it makes them an even bigger target for any regulator, elected official or employment lawyer who wants to take aim.

For voters, the prospect of an “Uber election” would be great. Our country is overdue for a discussion about the future of work and jobs, as well as how to support real innovation.

I’m all for photo-opps of candidates ordering an Uber or Lyft. As long as they ask their driver how’s their day going.

Above: Outside Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • ABC

    It is the silly period, since you repeat the misquote of Bush. He was discussing the explosion of part time jobs under the worst recovery in history. Americans do need to work more hours IN FULL TIME JOBS that would occur if there were an actual economic recovery. The last 8 years have seen an economy propped up by the Fed in the face of the most anti growth policies ever pursued. Those of us in the tech community should recognize this for the problem it is. The democrats do not support growth. Therefore, they do not support tech. Instead, they want to give handouts to a few tech businesses that have no hope of success (remember Solyndra?) to pretend that they are pro tech. Wake up!

    • ellafino

      Really you are asking people to remember Solyndra when there have been multiple solar companies who have gone belly up. How about I bring up Tesla do you remember them.

      • ABC

        Of course. And how much of their profit is from giving wealthy people $7500 to buy a car that costs $100,000 and how much from the state of California, who pays up to $35,000 per car sold? Why not let Tesla succeed because it has a good product? if you are going to remember Tesla, also remember Fisker who got part of the $25 billion in grants from the DOE, as did dozens of other companies that went belly up. The point is that offering handouts to random tech companies doesn’t add up to supporting growth. We have an economy that has lived on 0 interest rates for 8 years now and that is only enabling growth at less than two thirds of our historical average. Why? because of the anti-growth policies of Democrats. That is why the hit piece by an author that is in the bag for Democrats that misquotes Bush.

  • ellafino

    I wish people would stop calling Uber and Airbnb tech companies.