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SAN FRANCISCO – Jeb Bush walked out of the offices of a tech firm here Thursday surrounded by a crush of TV cameras and reporters, handed his iPhone 6 to the young aide who travels with him, Raul Henriquez, and asked him to call an Uber.
“You wanna turn this on and get our next car before it’s illegal?” Bush said to Henriquez, a wry smirk on his face.
It was a crack meant to argue a larger point: that Hillary Clinton — if elected president — would be bad for Silicon Valley and the new tech-based economy.
Clinton doesn’t oppose services like Uber, but she did raise questions about the nature of the “gig economy” in her first major policy speech earlier this week. The Uberization of many industries is “raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future,” she said.
Clinton sought to position herself as the protector of the financially stressed worker in the new economy, but Bush, in an interview with Yahoo News, said that her approach would stifle innovation.
“Her approach and the approach of the progressive left in this country is all top-down,” Bush said. “And if we’re going to empower anybody, it ought to be the individuals that are striving for success.”
Bush spoke exclusively with Yahoo News after touring Thumbtack, a 5-year-old company that builds software to connect self-employed workers and small businesses with customers who are looking for their services. During a tour of the building with Thumbtack’s founders, he told them he had looked at their website and saw that it “works spectacularly.” But he joked that he might not sign up for it, “because I’ve got this unique life I live now where I’m not sure I want a massage therapist coming to my house.”
He later spoke to employees and answered questions from them on a range of topics, from protections for LGBT Americans to net neutrality to his record on gun laws while governor of Florida.
He dismissed Clinton’s argument that economic growth must be paired with an emphasis on fairness for the greatest number of Americans to benefit. Clinton’s speech was based on the idea that economic growth cannot happen without a middle class that feels secure, and that stagnation in wages — as well as the continued lack of family-friendly workplace policies such as paid maternity and sick leave — have left too many Americans feeling like they are one mishap away from falling into poverty.
Hillary Clinton makes the first major policy speech in her White House bid. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)
She also has said she will crack down on companies that don’t treat their employees fairly, and spoke in New Hampshire on Thursday about the need for companies to do more to share profits with their employees, though she has yet to give many specifics about how she would address the issues she has flagged.
Bush applauded the emphasis on greater growth and prosperity but argued that Clinton’s approach would be counterproductive.
“Look, the best of intentions aren’t going to be enough here. It’s OK to say we want to fill the gaps, but every time you propose another rule, another requirement, another way to protect people, you make it harder and harder for people to rise up, you make it harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached,” he said.
Bush, like Clinton, has yet to go into great detail on how he would meet his target of 4 percent economic growth as president or what he means when he says that as president he would “start disrupting to create better services and empowering people to make more decisions for themselves.” He plans to offer some details in a speech Monday in Tallahassee.
Though it looks like the age-old disagreement between government-centric liberals and free-market conservatives, their disagreement this week played out against the fresh backdrop of the new economic realities. Both Bush and Clinton are battling to seize the mantle of the forward-looking candidate of the future, casting the other as a figure stuck in the past and using the new language of the app-driven moment as they do it.
Clinton, during her speech on Monday, tagged Bush for supporting “trickle-down” economics and a Wild West type of economy in which the rich get richer and regular working-class Americans get left behind.
During his opening remarks to the employees at Thumbtack, Bush countered that expecting government action to fix what ails the economy was going about things backward.
“My personal belief is the interactions of all of us together in a fair and just society with as few rules as possible — not more rules, but fewer rules — will create more prosperity, more innovation, more benefits than the command-and-control, old approach of hierarchical regulations and large government trying to solve problems for us,” Bush told the 100 or so Thumbtack employees.
Bush stood on the ground floor of the sleek, many-windowed Thumbtack offices in the hip South of Market neighborhood, next to a large, open kitchen, where a “culinary staff” fixes daily meals for employees. A few feet to his right, a refrigerator housed health drinks and water, but also bottles of craft beer such as Lagunitas IPA and Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA.
“The government today in Washington looks more like General Motors in 1975. The government of the future needs to look more like Thumbtack, to be honest with you: lower cost, higher quality, focused on outcomes, really committed to the citizens — in your case the customers,” Bush said.
Democrats countered Thursday by hitting Bush on a series of social and cultural issues. A group created to support Clinton, Correct the Record, called him “stuck in the past” and “anti-Silicon Valley,” based on his positions or past statements on Obamacare (Bush opposes it), equal pay for women (he says he supports it but has shown a lack of familiarity with legislation on the topic), climate change (Bush believes it exists but does not think it is an imminent threat), gay marriage (he opposes it) and immigration (Bush favors a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants but not citizenship).
Asked about the support Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick, has voiced for President Obama’s health care law, Bush said, “If Mr. Kalanick looked, if he was going to create the system that would be optimal for the people that are taking advantage of his platform, it would be one where there’s nonmandated exchanges, where you have the scale that comes from exchanges, but portability is the driver of it.
“And you have low-premium catastrophic coverage being the norm, and it goes with the person that has it,” Bush said.
Bush spoke forcefully against the deal struck between the U.S. government and the Iranian government to halt its development of a nuclear weapons program in exchange for lifting sanctions. He has already said this week that Obama should have insisted that Iran abandon, not delay, its march toward a bomb. But Obama has said that was not possible. Bush, however, said the painful economic sanctions the Obama administration cobbled together with international partners could have been sustained, despite the argument that many nations in the coalition would not have continued to hold off buying Iranian oil or trading with Tehran for much longer.
Jeb Bush speaks to employees during a visit to Thumbtack, an online startup in San Francisco. (Photo: Eric Risberg/AP)
“You could have kept the pressure on through meaningful sanctions,” Bush said. “The sanctions that have been in existence now for a pretty long time were enhanced in the last five years, and had they been kept — with the lower energy prices that we were seeing — I think Iran eventually would have negotiated to where the United States wanted them to be,” he said.
“If they wanted to create a civilian nuclear program, fine. If they want to build, if they want to become a nuclear threshold state, no. And now they are, and we’ve legitimized them,” Bush said.
He added that he was outraged by the work of the Iranian government to arm and fund attacks on American troops in Iraq.
“We also have a situation that is deeply troubling to me, which is there’s blood on their hands with American military men and women in Iraq,” Bush said. “And to legitimize a regime that killed hundreds of American soldiers without any consequence, without any recognition that that’s something that should be troubling, is deeply disturbing to me.”
Bush disputed reports that he has been focused on prepping to respond to businessman Donald Trump in the primary debates that begin next month.
“I haven’t been preparing. But clearly he’s going to be in the debates. And I’m going to have to deal with it for sure. My guess is I’ll be a target, but it doesn’t bother me a bit,” Bush said.
Bush said that support for Trump is coming from Americans who are “legitimately angry” about the lack of immigration enforcement in sanctuary cities like San Francisco, where many local authorities do not turn over undocumented immigrants to federal law enforcement. A 32-year-old woman was shot to death last week in San Francisco by an immigrant who had already been deported five times.
“I totally respect and get why people are upset about this, completely. My heart goes out to the family of this precious, beautiful girl that was killed,” Bush said. “But we should solve this problem. This has been lingering now for how long? Immigration reform needs to start with border control and move on beyond that. I have solutions for these things.
“And my campaign will be about leadership, not about trying to prey on people’s fears, which I think is what Donald Trump is doing,” he said.
Bush also said he would support the Pentagon if it decides to allow transgender Americans to serve in the military openly.
“The first priority ought to be the morale of the troops. So if you can accommodate people who are transgendered and deal with making sure the military is comfortable with this, and making sure that the overriding principle ought to be, ‘How do we create the highest morale for the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen?’ — if you can accommodate those two concerns, then fine,” he said.
(Cover tile photo: Eric Risberg/AP)