clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Eric Schmidt, Rand Paul, John Doerr and Bob Woodward ... Agreeing on Things

"What I would like to see is more entrepreneurs. More entrepreneurs everywhere. I'm just in awe of entrepreneurs."

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Journalistic eminence Bob Woodward took the stage at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit today to interview two Silicon Valley legends, Eric Schmidt and John Doerr, and one Valley political favorite (though he hails from Kentucky), Rand Paul.

Onstage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the debate, titled “Why Can’t Tech Save Politics,” ranged from education to health care to immigration reform. It was just one of 11 sessions packed with boldfaced names at the inaugural New Establishment Summit celebrating the “Age of Innovation,” and no one on the surprisingly friction-free panel really disagreed on much — try as Woodward did to prod them.

A fast-forward through the onstage conversation, which might serve as a primer of Silicon Valley political opinions:

Rand Paul, U.S. Republican senator from Kentucky, on student-teacher ratios: “I think we should go a million to one! Ten million to one!”

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, seemed to agree with this, but added: “Gamify the lessons. … As jobs get automated away, the only thing we can do is have smarter people.”

The panel agreed that we need more education entrepreneurs, and less regulation and less centralized authority around schools.

Paul called out the Internet as a good model: “No one’s in charge of the Internet, and look how good the Internet’s going.”


Doerr, a Democratic donor and venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins, said politicians and teachers tried to bring tech into schools, but it was the students and free market who really succeeded in it. He waved his smartphone to indicate how. He then talked about how 30 percent of teachers are now texting with their students.

“Governments are very, very change-resistant, largely because laws are written by the incumbents,” Schmidt said.

“Does President Obama agree with this?” Woodward asked.

“I would never try to channel the president,” Schmidt demurred.

Woodward pressed: “If Google had been in charge of the Obamacare website, would we have the trouble that we had?”

“One of the Google employees took a leave of absence to fix it,” Schmidt said. “Government procurement is exactly pessimal for how software is built.”

Rand chimed in for the free market here: “There’s no feedback loop.”

Doerr concurred: “The feedback loop!”

Woodward seemed confused because Paul and Doerr were supposed to be in disagreement: “You sound like a Republican!” he said to Doerr.

 Doerr, Schmidt, Paul and Woodward discuss “Why Can’t Tech Save Politics?” at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit
Doerr, Schmidt, Paul and Woodward discuss “Why Can’t Tech Save Politics?” at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit
Michael Kovak/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Paul launched into a series of metaphors to explain Obamacare problems, and I couldn’t quite follow, but he began with mouthwash, which led to eye surgery, and concluded with: “Obamacare creates an artificial market.”

Maybe the solution is — oh I don’t know, more entrepreneurs?

“So is the solution here to make the federal government into a big giant venture capital firm?” Woodward asked.

“Partially, that is the answer,” Paul concurred.

Yes and yes, Doerr said.

“What I would like to see is more entrepreneurs. More entrepreneurs everywhere. I’m just in awe of entrepreneurs,” Doerr said.

Woodward continued to be shocked by Doerr’s level of agreement with Paul.

“You really are a Republican,” he said.

The conversation turned sharply to immigration, and the bespectacled Schmidt got sassy.

“Can you imagine if we actually did that? If we actually had immigration reform? Oh my God! Wake me up!” Schmidt said.

And then, as the session was ending, Paul wanted to talk about the environment.

“The way to make sure that the environment is always protected is to make it profitable,” Paul opined. “You gotta make it profitable, and then it goes on and on forever.”

Woodward looked perplexed. No one really seemed to be going after this statement.

“Too much agreement here today,” he said, wrapping up the session.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.