Rumors persist that Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO who announced his departure from the company in January, will become President Obama’s next Commerce Secretary. Business Insider reports that Schmidt has picked up significant Republican support, making his confirmation all but assured if he gets the appointment.
Republicans should not be so quick to confirm him, for two reasons. First, having him installed in the administration brings a wealth of online strategy and tactics to the Obama White House just in time for the 2012 elections. Add in that former (?) WH spokesman Robert Gibbs may end up working at facebook and we may be looking at chess mastery being worked on the online game board. Move this piece here, capture this one over there, set traps and snares for your opponent to fall into.
The second and broader reason to question Schmidt is the reason he left Google. He reportedly left over a disagreement regarding whether the company should continue to do business with China, given its severe restrictions on freedom of speech on the internet. Founder Sergey Brin, whose parents left the old Soviet Union, had battled China’s censorship for years, and concluded that opening them up through engagement was no longer possible. Brin wanted to pull out of China, and Google did so last year. Schmidt, who is famously hostile to personal privacy, didn’t seem to mind China’s censorship and still doesn’t. He lost the argument, and left the company.
To put it bluntly, Eric Schmidt appears to be a man who cares much more about mercantilism than freedom. That the Obama administration that was once home to the likes of Van Jones and Anita “Chairman Mao” Dunn now is interested in hiring Schmidt isn’t all that surprising. It fits with their world view and past hiring decisions. If Schmidt gets the appointment, Republicans should not give him a free pass.