The Secret to Winning Any Debate in Washington Right Now

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 24, 2012

From The News Desk

Like the Millennium Falcon caught in the Imperial fleet's tractor beam, Silicon Valley is getting increasingly drawn into Washington game playing.

Resistance is futile.

If we don't engage-- the tact most companies have taken with Washington up until now-- we get legislation like SOPA. If try to reason with congress, we still get SOPA. If we close down our businesses in protest, it may help. But it definitely hurts companies and consumers. If we turn the power of social media on congress, we get the end of SOPA....but it'll return in another form.

That leaves one option that makes most of the tech community a little ill: Pay more money to Congress to do our bidding. There are a few problems with this. The first is it assumes and rewards corrupt politics. (Something Chris Dodd seems to take for granted.)

And surely billions of dollars could be spent better elsewhere in the tech industry. On companies' R&D, on higher salaries for employees, on job training for out of work Americans, on charity. On anything really. Even a private jet for executives would be more palatable than lining politicians' pockets. At least those executives are creating jobs.

Do you see what I did there? I suddenly made an outrageous statement about executives deserving private planes politically palatable. How? I played the jobs card. This is rapidly becoming the only way Silicon Valley can get its way in Washington without completely selling its soul and buying votes: Playing the jobs card.

To wit: Millionaires are bad when they're called one-percenters. But call them, job creators, and they're not so bad.

And the tech industry should be able to play it all it wants, because technology is creating way more jobs than any other sector.

Consider the track record:

- 500 shareholder rule. It's something that benefits wealthy investors and lessens SEC oversight over private companies. But politically palatable because it helps startups and startups create jobs.

- Immigration. No politician will touch it, even though the Valley begs and begs for H1B visas to fill open jobs. Why? Because immigrants steal our jobs. But reposition it as a "startup visa" to create jobs, and it starts to get more traction.

- SOPA. Hollywood's core message was that piracy costs jobs. Never mind, there was little evidence those numbers were remotely true.

- Mitt Romney and private equity? Evil because they take away jobs.

- On a local level, why is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee supporting tech companies? They create jobs, and they've committed to creating more.

Here are some general rules to playing the jobs card:

- The first party to play the card generally wins. It didn't matter that tech companies came back at SOPA with the "I work for the Internet" campaign, because Hollywood had already framed it as an issue about their jobs. Ditto immigration. 500 Shareholder Rule advocates got this and lead with it, and experienced little opposition. For whatever reason the jobs card works better on offense than defense.

- It helps if you actually do create jobs. This is exactly why the Valley should be playing this card over and over again with politicians in this election year. Because it's not just cheesy pandering to undecided voters, it's a legitimate argument.

Just to prove my point, let's play a little drinking game during tonight's State of the Union Address. Every time someone uses jobs as justification for pushing his or her agenda, DRINK! Hope you don't have an early morning scheduled.