Is Ro Khanna the Valley’s Next Big Thing?

Is Ro Khanna the Next Big Thing in valley politics? The author of Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America’s Future, Khanna believes Silicon Valley’s representatives need to be active on critical like reclaiming manufacturing. He uses phrases like “disruptive innovation” that don’t usually fall out of a political candidate’s mouth.

From 2009 to 2011, Khanna served as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce, focusing on the president’s “Innovation Agenda.”

After his two-year stint at Commerce, Khanna returned to Silicon Valley, where he’s lived since 2001, and raised $1.2 million for a run a run against Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark. He decided not to challenge the 80-year-old congressman, however. Dublin city councilman Eric Swalwell, Jr., 31, subsequently defeated Stark and now represents the East Bay in Congress.

The 36-year-old Yale-educated Wilson Sonsini lawyer now sits on one of the Bay Area’s largest political war chests.  Khanna won’t say definitively whether he’ll run for Mike Honda’s congressional seat — only that he’s “considering where I can best serve and make an impact.” He doesn’t discourage speculation either and keeps a busy schedule meeting with people who could help him with a run. The 17th Congressional District encompasses Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Fremont, Milpitas, North San Jose and San Jose’s Berryessa District.

Khanna admits his interest in Honda’s seat is “not a secret,” and that his decision won’t come down to risk calculation or polling. He says he’s not afraid of losing. “A lot of change agents lost a lot of elections, but they stood on principle.”

Khanna, a Democrat, thinks that the U.S. government can create a prosperity dividend for the Bay Area with policies that allow stateside manufacturers to compete with overseas competition.

“Ayn Rand’s objectivist worldview may be nice in theory,“ he writes in Entrepreneurial Nation, “but … China’s government isn’t sitting on the sidelines. Neither is India’s, nor Brazil’s, nor Japan’s, nor Germany’s, nor South Korea’s. In some cases, foreign governments are providing their manufacturers with rent, land, worker training funds, capital infusions and on-site consultants.”

“I think China … is too deeply involved in subsidizing losing industries,” Khanna says. “On the flipside, I don’t think the answer is a complete laissez-faire government indifference to technology.”

Khanna puts forth a number of directions he thinks can help the country maintain economic vitality. That includes improving transportation infrastructure, investing in vocational education, fighting product dumping and exchange rate manipulation by foreign nations, cracking down on piracy and leveling the playing field for access to raw materials.

Khanna believes a country must make things, not just design, code, market and provide services. His positive message emphasizes maxims like “dream big again.” He thinks that a technology-friendly government can use modern tools to improve itself and function at a higher level.  Washington needs legislators who “understand the role that tech can play in transforming government, not just transforming the private sector,” Khanna says. “Technology can make government better.”

“We need people who are going to go to Washington that are independent—people who are accountable only to their constituents, not to any interest groups. People who are going to put country ahead of party, who are going to be willing to think outside the box and propose ideas that have not been tried before,” he says.

“I think a congressperson should respond to constituents’ emails themselves, within reason. I think they should be very, very visible and accessible. This is a generational change. It’s no longer sufficient to show up to a few banquets and events.”

“The Internet makes it possible for people to have their voices heard and bypass traditional structures. The more that happens, a real democratic competition of ideas will emerge and be ultimately healthier.”

“Ultimately, the power of ideas is all that matters. It’s the biggest currency in politics. Ideas shape the world and are what excites me about politics.”

During an interview at a noisy pho restaurant in a Milpitas strip mall, Khanna shared his thoughts on a range of topics. Some excerpts:

Tesla: I’m excited about Tesla, and it was great that some advanced manufacturing is happening after NUMMI was closed. I’m a cheerleader for the company.”

Small-scale manufacturing: “I think there’s a resurgence in respect for how difficult it is to make things, how difficult it is to engage in manufacturing. People can start their own manufacturing shops almost anywhere in the country, and I think people are taking pride in making things. I’m very optimistic in the “maker” movement and the opportunity for us to increase the amount of customized and niche products.”

3-D printing is extraordinarily exciting and it’s one of the things that gives me hope that manufacturing may come back to the U.S. The argument in my book is that customizing products is what gives us an advantage. Everyone wants their own unique item.”

China: “Wages are already rising there. My hope is we’ll eventually see increased human rights and democratization and, as the country develops, the hope is that labor and environmental standards will improve as well. Some manufacturing is coming back here from China.”

Washington, D.C.: “There’s intense polarization. There’s a sense that we’re not putting the country first. I think that there’s no doubt that there’s dysfunction in Washington. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of good people with honorable intent there, but the system in many ways is broken.”

Hayley Benham-Archdeacon assisted with this article.

33 Comments

  1. Very well written article.  I hope Khanna decides to run.  He would be a perfect fit for CD17.  He is spot on about Silicon Valley going through a generational change. No disrespect to Congressman Honda, but we need new younger leaders who understand the depth and transformational change the district has been undergoing in recent years to represent the community moving forward. It’s time to change the status quo and be open to a new vision and new ideas.  Khanna states it best here.

    “We need people who are going to go to Washington that are independent—people who are accountable only to their constituents, not to any interest groups. People who are going to put country ahead of party, who are going to be willing to think outside the box and propose ideas that have not been tried before.”

    If Khanna decides to run, he has my vote!

    • I agree with this. Mike is (has) been a good guy, but we need new blood.  Mike, Anna, Jackie should call it when they are ahead and allow the younger folks to shine.

      While Mike was great for us AAPI community members in the past, he is totally out of it with respect to current Silicon Valley thoughts.

      I doubt he understand what CISCO, Intel and Brocade does, nor does he understand us deeply in the LGBTQ community.

  2. Ro Khanna huh? Any change away from labor and race obsessed old guard Democrats like Lantos, Stark, or Honda would be an improvement. Tech enthusiasts will no doubt be giddy about this sharp young guy.
    But his dismissal of the precepts that used to be the foundation of our government and our society is troubling. Typical and not unexpected to be sure but troubling all the same. Perhaps, given his young age and his foriegn background he has no experience of the traditions upon which this country was built. His collectivist philosophy seems representative of the rising tide of enthusiasm for abandonment of the American model of an individual driven society in favor of a Chinese/European style, Government directed society.
    Presumably the feeling is that a managed, predictable society is worth the price of all the bureaucracy, cronyism, corruption, taxation, and loss of personal liberty that go along with this socialist form of governance.
    Pretty naive and shallow thinking in my opinion. But that seems to be what the sheeple are bleating for.

    • Galt, you have a lot of nerve referring to his “foreign background” when he was U.S. born. He is as American as you (maybe more) according the constitution. Obviously you don’t believe in the United States Constitution, which grants all citizens equal rights.

      • Ruh roh.
        It appears I’ve committed that most unforgiveable of liberal sins. I carelessly made an assumption about a person of diversity based on their name. Crucify me please. I’m holding out my wrists. Here’s a hammer and some rusty, jagged, primitively cast iron nails.
        Lily, it appears that YOU googled “Ro Khanna” whereas I neglected to, thus making YOU a good person and ME a bad one.
        Therefore, like progressive, openminded persons around the world, you are now free to disregard the rights and opinions of anyone opposed to that which you’ve already made up your mind.

        • You used a person’s race as a means to discredit him and portray him as an Other. That’s not a “liberal sin”, it’s just horrible. And you follow it up by comparing yourself to Christ and accusing Lily of disregarding your rights?

        • > You used a person’s race as a means to discredit him and portray him as an Other. That’s not a “liberal sin”, it’s just horrible.

          You mean horrible like using “affirmative action” for “minorities” to depict diverse minority white people as beneficiaries of “white skin privilege”?

          That kind of horrible?

          http://whitmanpioneer.com/news/news-highlight/2012/09/15/students-community-members-confess-privilege/

          Could you provide us some evidence that “affirmative action” for minorities ever bothered you in the least little bit?

        • Who’s talking about affirmative action? Why do you immediately perceive the denunciation of a racist comment as an attack on whites? Do you think it’s okay to advise people not to vote for someone because he’s Asian?

        • Slow down there, Dakota.  No one around here believes that Ro Khanna is an “Other” as you so quaintly seem to believe, and certainly Galt didn’t say that.  You need to think before you comment.

          And who really fears anyone else in this most polyglot of cities and counties?  Galt didn’t deploy race…he criticized the old-line race obsessed politicians who haunt our public spaces.

          Indo-Americans have been part of the American system since back in the 17th & 18th centuries on the East Coast as part of the export trade of Vermont winter-time lake ice to Calcutta.

          We speak for the newest American minority (no one else seems to do it) when we say welcome to Ro Khanna in his service to this city, county, state, and nation.

        • Dakota, I am not surprised by his statements, at all. this is what he had to say about Obama, in another thread in SJI:

          “That slick talking charlatan in the photo at the top of the article- the guy angrily scolding and jabbing his finger in America’s face- is nothing more than a drug pusher. He’s pissed off because somebody’s been messing with his supply lines connecting him with his customers in the ‘hoods across the country.”

          Hi true self is really starting to show.

        • Dakota (and you too Lily),
          Contrary to what you imagine, there isn’t a racist hiding behind every comment about ethnicity. You might want to quit consulting your “Progressives Guide To Taking Offense” in figuring out how to react to everything you read. You’re too smart for that. Read what I wrote. Then use your own mind and ask yourself if there was really anything racist in there.

        • I don’t think that every comment about ethnicity is racist. I’m highly conscious about ethnicity, myself, because I believe that racist comments are often made by people who aren’t thoughtful enough to realize they’re being racist. You might not realize that implicitly saying you shouldn’t vote for someone because they’re Asian is racist, but younger white folks like me who grew up in the diverse culture of the South Bay community see your comments for what they are: undeniable racism. When you say Honda is not trustworthy because he is foreign, and then admit that you deemed him foreign because he is Japanese, that is racist.

        • > Who’s talking about affirmative action?

          Apparently I went a little too fast for you.  I’ll try explaining it to you in smaller steps.

          1.) You were deploring “Othering”.

          2.) “Affirmative action” is an instance of horrible, awful, terrible people “othering” the diverse minority white community.

          3.) Your ignorance and insensitivity to the practice of “othering” the diverse minority white community
          is an instance of, any or all of:

          a.) ignorance and insensitivity
          b.) hypocrisy
          c.) being a horrible, awful, terrible person

          Easier to understand, now?

        • >Slow down there, Dakota.  No one around here believes that Ro Khanna is an “Other” as you so quaintly seem to believe, and certainly Galt didn’t say that.

          Okay, you’re not following along here. I’m saying that Galt portrayed HONDA as an Other, not Khanna, by saying that his credibility is dismissed due to his “foreign background”. If you think Galt would have said the same thing about a white Congressman, you’re a fool.

        • Lou, it’s understandable if you want to fight about affirmative action when someone brings it up, but the fact that you bring it up in completely unrelated discussions shows your insecurity. Never once in this discussion did I say I supported affirmative action. I think it reveals a black-and-white view of the world if you see my comments deploring the “Othering” (To use your term) of the Asian community and somehow see it as an attack on whites. I’m white, too; whether or not I think affirmative action is a form of institutionalized racism as you believe is irrelevant to whether or not I think we should treat other races fairly. Saying you shouldn’t vote for someone because of their race is wrong, I’d think you would at least agree with that. So why are you reflexively opposing me?

        • Dakota, did it escape your attention that I said I thought Ro Khanna would be an improvement over either Stark, Lantos, or Honda? Two thirds of these guys are white. How your overly active imagination can ascribe a racist motivation here totally defies logic.

          Believe it or not, Dakota, Disgusted, Lily, randall, and SoSo, most people, including conservatives like me, have an instinctive and inherent respect for people and are not inclined to condemn others based on scanty or imagined evidence. The 5 of you, however, do not seem to possess this quality.

          When it comes to “othering”, your hypervigilance in matters of race gives way to complete disregard and a marked inclination to “other” in matters where the target is not afforded protection by the doctrine of political correctness to which you’ve surrendered your capacity to reason.

          To recklessly label someone a racist, which you seem all too eager to do, is to deny them any further consideration, effectively silencing them and deliberately shutting out the diversity of thought and opinion that exists around us all and to which we all owe our consideration- not our stifling.

          This stifling, when practiced by those who fancy themselves as champions of human rights, is particularly offensive and betrays the most abject hypocrisy.
          You guys ought to cut it out.

        • Galt, you continually insist your statement was not racist, but you have not given any substantive reason why. I’ll present to you my thoughts once again and you can tell me why I’m wrong.

          You said Khanna had a “foreign background”, which you admittedly ascribed to his Indian name, and claimed that based on this foreign background made him inferior because he likely “he has no experience of the traditions upon which this country was built”. You called him that because he was Indian- I don’t think that fact is disputable. You admitted it was based on his name, it’s cut-and-dry.

          I’m trying to show you this so you stop doing it- you’ve used a man’s name as evidence of how he feels about American values. If your criterion is an Indian name, then do you have the same reaction to every Indian politician? I have a feeling you’ll say no, but then I have to ask why is this case different?

          Please, either explain to me where my logic is wrong or admit you made a mistake and try to improve yourself. =/

        • So in Racism Court you’re guilty unless proven innocent? Seems a bit puritanical to me Dakota but here goes…

          I didn’t base my assessment of Ro Khanna’s worthiness on his name or his race. I based it on his politics. Then I speculated as to why he’s developed the opinions that he has. I said “PERHAPS given his young age and his foreign background…”
          He IS young and he DOES have a “foreign background”. I’m not sure what you think that phrase means but what I meant by it in this instance was that, based on his name I figured that he either emigrated from India or his parents did. It’s likely that in either case he would have had little experience, either direct or passed down to him from his parents, of the America that existed prior to this explosion in the size, cost, control, and intrusiveness of our Government. Newer immigrants might understandably figure that the way America is now is the only way it can be.
          It would never cross my mind that his ethnicity would somehow make him unqualified for the job. Nor did it cross my mind that anyone would assume that that’s what I meant. And shame on YOU, Dakota, for assuming it.
           
          Of course, since I didn’t do any research on his family history there is a chance that Ro comes from a long line of Khannas who’ve resided in San Jose since the Pleistocene Era. Even if that is the case, it would simply make me wrong- not racist.

          OK Dakota. Now I’m going to do YOU a big favor and give you a chance to explain to the world why you think it’s OK to call people racist.

        • >I didn’t base my assessment of Ro Khanna’s worthiness on his name or his race. I based it on his politics.

          You said “foreign background”. What does that have to do with politics?

          >He IS young and he DOES have a “foreign background”. I’m not sure what you think that phrase means but what I meant by it in this instance was that, based on his name I figured that he either emigrated from India or his parents did. It’s likely that in either case he would have had little experience, either direct or passed down to him from his parents, of the America that existed prior to this explosion in the size, cost, control, and intrusiveness of our Government. Newer immigrants might understandably figure that the way America is now is the only way it can be.

          I understand your reasoning. The reality, however, is that the attitude of “Indians are new immigrants and therefore less likely to understand the values that are important to America”, when applied in the way you applied it, is racist. I can’t imagine anything much more American than starting your life fresh in a new country through your own hard work and initiative. I’ve met many immigrants throughout my life growing up in California, and I haven’t noticed some big trend in how they’re so different from me. Frankly, I’m curious what you picture when you think about how Indians are so different from you.

          To make negative assumptions about someone in reaction to their race is racist. Evaluate people as individuals, Galt.

        • < To make negative assumptions about someone in reaction to their race is racist. Evaluate people as individuals, Galt.>
          For some reason, Dakota, you are subconsciously ignoring the FACT that I never made any assumption about Ro Khanna, negative or otherwise, in reaction to his race.
          I DID evaluate him as an individual and the negative opinion I formed of his political ideology was based solely on his own description of it.

          <“Indians are new immigrants and therefore less likely to understand the values that are important to America.”>
          Once again, Dakota, you’ve subconsciously misinterpreted what I said. What I DID say was- Newer immigrants AND young people are less likely to understand the values that WERE important to America.  Big difference.

          There seems to be an insidious pattern here. Is it possible, Dakota, that you are consistently misinterpreting me for precisely the reason that you imagine me to be guilty of? You’ve formed your opinion of me. You made assumptions about my motives. Now you’re subconsciously trying to adjust what I said so that your view of me can remain consistent with your preconceived notion of who I must be.
          Of course, in modern America, this sort of bigotry is so commonplace that it is seldom noticed. But it has profoundly altered the political landscape. Well some of us still do notice, Dakota. And I’m calling you on it.

        • To say that Indians are “less likely to understand the values that were important to America” doesn’t seem less racist to me than saying that they are “less likely to understand the values that are important to America”.

          >I DID evaluate him as an individual

          And your evaluation included musing on how his race implicates his likely view of American values. Racist? Yes.

          You did say “perhaps”, which is better than total conviction that his Indian heritage proved, beyond no doubt, that he could not emphasize with or understand the values this country was founded on. Nevertheless, the man who says “race A is usually too different from whites for me to treat them equally” is not much better than the man who says “Race A is always too different from whites for me to treat them equally”. And yes, harping on US-born Indian politicians for their foreign backgrounds while assuming that white politicians have values more in tune with yours is racist. No matter how many times you say “shame on you, you’re insidious, you’re a bigot and I’m calling you on it”, you’re not going to turn this around on me. I’m not the one who said something shameful.

        • No Dakota. I wouldn’t expect you to want to let me turn this argument around on you. You liberals have grown accustomed to getting away with marginalizing and discriminating against those with whom you disagree and you won’t easily give up that advantage.
          You are now in the “denial” stage of the process. As you pointed out to me, the bigotry is so ingrained in you that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. It’ll take some introspection.
          I’ve been through this introspection process, Dakota. This race debate has been with us for a long, long time and most thoughtful people have taken many opportunities to reexamine our feelings on the subject. I can assure you that I do not believe that the people of any race are inherently better or worse than those of any other race. But you on the other hand, lacking an innate trust in and respect for your fellow human being- you choose not to believe me but rather to call me a liar and a racist.

          You’ve incorrectly concluded that I’m a racist because you’ve inaccurately redefined the word “racism”.
          If you liberals would just quit fiddling around with the dictionary we could all avoid a lot of misunderstandings.

        • Dakota Dakota Dakota,
          You’ve developed a system for identifying and flushing out people who in your opinion are racist. It’s a foolproof, can’t miss system that works every time and requires no thought on your part. This technique of yours appears to consist solely of listening for telltale phrases which, by your definition are proof that the one who uttered them must be racist. You don’t have to think. You simply react. It’s brilliant!
          Well your little strategy is flawed dude. Grow up. Evaluate people as individuals- not on the basis of some mindless flowchart.

          And by the way. What wicked prejudices are at work in that mind of yours that make you assume I’m white? Hmmm?

  3. The idea of challenging an incumbent especially against someone who has been a party loyalist is frowned upon. This mindset needs to change, why should we settle for good enough? We need someone new with bold ideas and vision to move us forward. Ro Khanna seems to have that young energy, bright ideas and skills to promote innovation in a robust manner that Silicon Valley deserves. I hope he decides to run against Mr. Honda. My best wishes are with this young and dynamic leader. 
    -Viola

  4. I thought Honda retired.  If he’s still in DC, he’s not leaving any footprints in the snow as they say.

    Khanna sounds interesting.  A good fit for Silicon Valley.  Nice to have a choice.

  5. > I think China … is too deeply involved in subsidizing losing industries,” Khanna says. “On the flipside, I don’t think the answer is a complete laissez-faire government indifference to technology.”

    He’s already learned one valuable polictical skill:  the art of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

    This article is so densely packed with the typical political platitudes and bromides, it’s hard to discern what if any new ideas Khanna is capable of.

    > improving transportation infrastructure,

    Oh no.  More bullet trains and light rail.  Ick.

    > investing in vocational education,

    Swill for the teachers unions.

    > fighting product dumping and exchange rate manipulation by foreign nations,

    Protectionism and crony capitalism.

    > leveling the playing field …

    A platitude with a long expired freshness date.

    Honda must really be a loser if people are getting this excited over Khanna.

  6. I haven’t met this man, though we’ve heard a lot about him… But he’s younger and Peninsular, I’m older and Valley…

    Based on his bio and his résumé I would ponder to say that he’s had a whole series of influential mentors, not that this is bad in and of itself. But it is emblematic of the process by which we have been choosing our leaders in not only California but nationally as well.

    Our leaders have increasingly emerged exclusively from our elite institutions and not from the polity. Their emergence is marked in almost every case by a vetting process that virtually guarantees that the end product will be acceptable to as many diverse interest groups as possible, thus rendering the possibility of any real leadership quite remote.

    My father always said getting ahead in life was like taking a train, you have to get your ticket punched at the right stations in order to get where want to go… What he meant was I should move East and attend Georgetown and then shoot for Yale or Harvard Law rather than shuffle around the California Community Colleges and transfer to SJSU… Probably right, had I wished enter the Vetting System. One in which almost every distinguishing characteristic, or opinion, you possess is ground right down in the sculpting and polishing required for admission to the Pool.

    It’s not a club, it’s more like secretarial pool, (an anachronism of the 1960’s, see Mad Men…) from which the various staffs of the Ruling Party (mid level Executive Branch positions) and the Opposition (mid level Legislative and Party slots), as well as the range of think tanks and interest groups on every side of every issue (we’re professionals dontcha know, we side where we are and go with the money) are drawn. It’s the “entry level” for politicians these days… This system is mirrored at each level of Government in every State and County, with regional differences in taste and only minor variation of opinion… Most of us can tell you where the “stations” are, that matter, in San Jose and who stops there. 

    It is not my contention that this system is corrupt, the corruption is in it’s intent, its moderating intent, if you will. The result of that intent is a homogenous, wholly moderate and temperate worldview, a set of ideological blinders which automatically reject not only decisive action but any real social change, just as they are designed to do.

    And it is also not my contention that these people are not men and women of accomplishment and discipline, they are. That’s also what the system does, it educates and in that process separates, by it’s very nature and structure… Cream is supposed to rise.

    And the only problem with using cream all the time is that it’s too rich for most people… You need a little half and half, you need to combine knowledge, academic accomplishment and the Vetting with a half slice of Life, of real experience, perhaps even of failure, certainly of poverty and need.

    Our leaders can and do emerge from everyday places, everyday families, every schoolboy knows who they are in each of the varied groups that you will find in every schoolhouse, high school and college in America, we naturally group ourselves, based on comfort and affinity, and leaders emerge from each group.

    And based on what Society values and encourages and their own desire and discipline they succeed or fail, but at each step the tie, and a couple spotted points, goes to group favored. In my lifetime this has been primarily athletic white males. Today, at least in Silicon Valley, the nerds, and the women, are giving them a run for their money, but we still lose 35%, one in three drop out of HIGH SCHOOL, never even seeing a hint of Ivy or even City College. Where do they go, what do they do to survive? I can tell you where a lot them wind up, and so can the cops and the social worker, we still have social workers, right?

    I’m not writing off Mr. Khanna, he will get his opportunity to present his case. And though I personally resent his challenge within the Party, and not out any respect of hierarchy or any sense that the Democratic Party is organizationally superior or immune from the Vetting Model, it’s not… But I like Mike, he has walked those streets, and if he’s ready to retire then I will look at someone else and Mike Honda is not Stark ravin’ anything, Mr. Stark should have bowed out last time…

    I also realize that with the Democrats in overwhelming dominance and our newly minted “Top Two” primary system that this will become much more common. In fact a challenge to every genuinely liberal Democratic officeholder from the very well financed (see “Citizens United”) Vetted Modicrats may become the new normal. These people certainly can’t influence policy as Republicans, so they won’t…

    Bill Clinton, for all his faults, indeed because of his faults, is regarded as someone genuinely empathetic, someone who can see the other side of life because he’s walked in those shoes and on those streets. And similarly we see a side of President Obama, a human side, a ‘normalcy’, still visible despite the discipline and vetting also obvious in his past, that tells us that he is sincere in his beliefs and his desire for all Americans to benefit from our Nation and it’s fruits, that we all should invest and reap the harvest. Which was why he was re-elected running against the ultimate Vetted One who just didn’t “get it”, try as he might… Emblematic was his wife’s recounting of their college days, a simple life of moderate means, financed entirely, she said, by cashing in dearly held American Motors preferred stock his dad had given him…

    That’s a slice of it, for sure…