Sheryl Sandberg for President?
Okay, we’re not there, at least not yet, but consider this headline from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg might ‘Lean In’ to political office.”
As reporter Carla Marinucci notes, “The valley buzz in recent months has suggested that Sandberg may be exploring just that, perhaps a future U.S. Senate run–or something even bigger.”
Which “valley” is buzzing? Silicon Valley, of course.
Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, possesses an IPO-based fortune estimated at $961 million. In addition, she has positioned herself as a substantial thought leader. Her book about empowering women in the workforce, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has become a cultural phenomenon, selling 1.7 million copies; there’s even going to be a movie.
So why shouldn’t Sandberg aspire to public office? If she’s not at the absolute pinnacle of Silicon Valley, she’s pretty darn close, and so why shouldn’t she think about the next step up the Mazlowian hierarchy of needs?
The historic pattern of American history is that every rising new industry creates a new class of politicians. In the 19th century, the railroads, for example, produced a slew of politicians, including William B. Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago. Abraham Lincoln made his pre-presidential living as a railroad lawyer. And in California, Leland Stanford, president of the Central and Southern Pacific railroads, was elected governor, then U.S. Senator.
In the 20th century, the movie industry produced a new politics in California. MGM’s Louis B. Mayer served as chairman of the California Republican Party in the 1930s; actor George Murphy was elected to the Senate in 1964, and, Ronald Reagan, of course, was elected governor two years later. More recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected and re-elected to the Sacramento statehouse.
So now, in the 21st century, it’s Silicon Valley’s turn. Four years ago, two Silicon Valley tech executives, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, ran for statewide office and lost–but of course, they were Republicans, running red in a very blue state.
Today more Silicon Valley Democrats are trying, including techster Ro Khanna, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D) in the June 3 primary.
And then there’s Sandberg: She has a political background, having worked as chief of staff in the Treasury Department in the Clinton administration. And since she’s only 44, she has plenty of time to choose her next move; today, she is 11 years younger than was Reagan when he first ran for public office.
So what office could she seek? Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (D), 73, is up for re-election in 2016. Will she run again? And the other senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (D), 80, is up for re-election in 2018. Will she run again? And what about the statehouse in Sacramento? Assuming that the current incumbent, Jerry Brown, is re-elected this November, he will be term-limited out in ’18. To be sure, any political post that Sandberg might seek will likely involve a fight with fellow Democrats, to say nothing of Republicans.
But then, Sandberg wrote a whole book about getting what you want. And so far, at least, she has backed up her words with deeds.
Yes, there’s the issue of the issues: Her potential opponents have no doubt scanned her book for opposition-research material, and Sandberg will be held to account for everything that Facebook has done during the course of her tenure.
History tells us that when an industry gets big enough, it starts cranking out candidates–including winning candidates–the way that it cranks out product.