Presidential Hopefuls Share Visions for America at SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Democratic presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren shared their visions for America’s future at the South by Southwest interactive festival Saturday.

In two installments of a series called “Conversations About America’s Future,” organized in collaboration with digital media company The Texas Tribune, the two senators discussed the current state of the Democratic party and their platform priorities.

At the festival focused on technological innovation, the politicians also talked about how government could hold tech giants accountable.

Sitting beside interviewer Anand Giridharadas, Senator Elizabeth Warren addresses the crowd at the South by Southwest on March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (KELSEY JUKAM, Courthouse News Service)

Klobuchar was first up in the series – and interviewer Kara Swisher broke the ice by asking if she’d like to address a certain hot-button issue: the comb the Minnesota senator reportedly used to eat a salad when she was without a fork on an airplane.  

“I used a comb to eat a salad very briefly on a plane in a MacGyver move,” Klobuchar admitted.

That story — along with other tales of how Klobuchar can sometimes be a tough boss — have dominated much of the dialogue about her since she announced her candidacy last month, but she said she did not want to waste time analyzing why that’s been such a focus or whether it is sexist.  

Klobuchar acknowledged that she has high expectations for the people who work with her, but, “most importantly,” she has high standards for the country.

“It is time to cross the river of our divides, to stop spending the day looking at the latest tweets and the latest attack and walk over that sturdy bridge that is our democracy … to a new ground in our politics,” Klobuchar said.

She said she wants to make sure the next person in the White House is “willing to rise to the challenges of the day,” and deal with key issues such as climate change, privacy, immigration reform and income inequality.

Klobuchar is particularly concerned about antitrust issues, and is likely to make this a focus of her presidential campaign just as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson did in the first quarter of the 20th century,

She wants to “supercharge” the agencies that investigate antitrust violations by imposing a fee on mega-company mergers and changing the standards so companies must bear the burden of proving they are not materially reducing competition.    

She called antitrust law “one of the governing principles for ensuring that we have a capitalist system and that we don’t have all of this monopoly consolidation that’s squeezing out new competitors.”

“Sadly, because of conservative courts … you’ve got to do something legislatively and through the agencies to change this,” Klobuchar said.  

Klobuchar said she does not trust big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, and thinks it’s “pathetic” that the government has not been able to pass a privacy bill to ensure that consumers can opt-out of data sharing.

“People are scared that it’s going to look like we’re regulating the internet,” Klobuchar said. “We blew past that when Russia was paying rubles for ads in our last election.”

She hopes Congress will pass the Honest Ads Act, a bill she co-sponsored with John McCain in response to Russia’s purchase of political ads in the U.S. during the last presidential election.

Klobucher said that if she were president, she’d “look carefully” at all the deals and acquisitions of major tech companies. Elizabeth Warren, speaking later in the day, went a step further and reiterated her recent declaration that she wants to “break up” Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Sitting beside interviewer Anand Giridharadas, Senator Elizabeth Warren addresses the crowd at the South by Southwest on March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (KELSEY JUKAM, Courthouse News Service)

Interviewer Anand Giridharadas asked members of the audience who worked for any of those companies to stand up.

“Looking at these people who work at these companies, can you explain to them why you want to break up the place they work?” Giridharadas asked.

“Because it will be a lot more fun to work for them,” Warren answered.

She said that companies like Amazon “suck out an incredible amount of information about every buyer and every seller, and then make the decision to go start a competing coffee-making selling outfit and drive out of business everyone else who was in that space.”

“My view on this is it’s a little like baseball: you can be an umpire, a platform, or you can own teams, that’s fine, but you can’t be an umpire and own one of the teams that’s in the game,” Warren said.

She said this plan would benefit tech entrepreneurs and other businesses, keeping the market competitive.

“The monopolist will make fewer monopoly profits. Boo-hoo,” Warren said.

However, Warren said she does not agree with her Democratic colleague in the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who believes that a society that allows for billionaires is not moral.

Warren said that in a world in which no child is taken “out of the game” because of race or gender and they all get great healthcare and educational opportunities, “if they then go into a market that’s a pretty fair market … and the consequence of that is there are some billionaires … I think that’s probably a world that works.”

“There’s an enormous amount to be gained from markets. Markets create opportunities,” Warren said. “But markets have to have rules. There has to be a cop on the beat. Markets without rules are theft.”

The “Conversations About America’s Future” series continues Sunday, with appearances by Governor Jay Inslee, former Governor John Hickenlooper and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who are also vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

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