Is a Political Endorsement Appropriate for a Technical Site?

A number of people have responded to my endorsement of Barack Obama with complaints that it is inappropriate for a tech publisher to publish on political issues. While most of the people responding to the post have either been supportive, or thoughtfully countered one or more of my arguments, a number of people have threatened to stop buying from O’Reilly as a result of my endorsement.

I thought I’d share my thinking on this issue, in part by elevating the responses I made in the course of the very long comment thread on the original post, and invite you all to debate the issue with me.

To those who said they would not buy from O’Reilly any more simply because of my political views, like Deb S, who said:

From now on every-time I see a O’Reilly book I will think that book is from that Liberal company that supports the Socialist Obama.
I embrace competition and free enterprise (both of which will be restricted or eliminated under Obama). I will choose NOT to buy O’Reilly books because of the negative associations that I have knowing O’Reilly is aligned with Socialists.

I responded:

if you’re going to stop buying O’Reilly books because I support Obama, are you also going to stop using Google because Eric Schmidt does? And I hope you’ll be sure to avoid Geico insurance, and Benajamin Moore Paints, and See’s Candies, and Fruit of the Loom underwear, because Warren Buffett supports him too. Try to be serious. Obama supporters represent at least half of this country. Are you going to avoid businesses owned by any of them? Be my guest.

Now, that was probably not the most politic response, but perhaps justified to someone who complains purely on the basis of my political affiliation. Someone who identified himself as fleab made a different argument:

I don’t care who you endorse but would like to visit the site for books and tech information, not for political opinion. Are there products for sale here or is this now a political editorial column? Keep it up, will lose a customer, I can go to CNN for political drivel.

I replied:

You know perfectly well that this site is my blog, and that books and other technical information are still available on

I made a strong effort to make my comments relevant to the tech community by arguing that Obama’s presidency would more directly address issues of importance to the tech community. If you disagree with my assessment, I’ve provided you a great platform here in the comments to present a reasoned argument on the issues.

I look forward to your thoughts.

This crystallized the problem for fleab:

I respect your response and your blog, but disagree on your judgement to have it linked under news on The blemish lies in the correlation of relevancy to opinion rather than that of information in relation to the main site.

Now this seems a point worth considering. I replied:

There is some justice to your complaint. I’ve sent it on to Allen Noren, who runs, to consider. However, I increasingly post on non-tech matters, like climate change and the need to “work on stuff that matters.”

What I think matters to many O’Reilly readers. If you weren’t on the other side of this particular issue – say it were a call for people to participate in a challenge to end world hunger, or build better tools for responding to disasters – would you have the same reaction?

The choice of our next president is one of the biggest issues facing the tech community, as it is the biggest issue facing the rest of the country. Are we to stay on the sidelines with so much at stake?

I think we’d be remiss in not making the case for the right choice, just as we do in any of the other areas we cover.

What’s more, the comments here provide a great platform for anyone who wants to take the opposite point of view to do so. A number of people have addressed specific points – this is a great discussion. But it’s interesting that no one has provided anything like a comprehensive argument as to why McCain would be a good choice for tech voters.
What an opportunity, if you believe in informed debate!

You could draft on my visibility and get your arguments in front of a lot of people. Yet many of the conservative comments on this post are instead about how I shouldn’t have made my arguments.

Take up the challenge! This is, among other things, an experiment in how the new tools of conversation on the net can be handled to enable responsible dialogue.
I’ve tried to respond to commenters because I am trying to model a kind of behavior that I believe we need more of, serious discussion, with links to our sources, the “source code of our thinking.”

So while I agree that it is controversial for some, this is an appropriate use of the platform I’ve built to reach the people who care what I think.

If I were shutting down debate, and making it a one-way channel, or spouting hate, I’d agree with you. But I’m trying to foster dialogue.

There’s still a day before the election. Make your best case!

I believe that’s a reasonable response, and you might say that after tomorrow the subject will be moot for another four years. But it’s clear that this issue deserves some further thought, independent of which candidate you support. Should tech businesses stay out of politics? Was it appropriate for to put a link to my opinions on the election on the front page? Frankly, I was disappointed how few tech blogs even linked to my piece, perhaps afraid to enter the political fray lest they anger some of their customers.

The issues at stake seem important enough for me to take that risk. I hope you agree. But if you don’t, I want to hear from you.

I also want to acknowledge once again that there are employees at O’Reilly who support John McCain, which is why I made clear that this was my personal opinion and not an official company position. It’s important that everyone have a voice, not just those with a big podium. But it’s also important to remember that most of the things I say on subjects from open source to web 2.0 to the role of alpha geeks in emerging technology are not “company positions” but personal opinions. As a great example, we have a great Microsoft publishing program alongside our open source and Mac publishing programs, but I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m a happy Mac user with deep roots in the open source philosophy of software development. But the fact remains that we use advocacy about positions we believe in to drive our marketing, and we are most successful in areas where we aren’t afraid to make our passionate support known.

Frankly, I’d rather see more companies wearing their opinions on their sleeves rather than expressing them with quiet campaign contributions and inside conversations. Part of what I love about the net is how it encourages openness and dialogue. And in the course of the comment stream, I found myself sharing one idea that seems fairly important to anyone thinking about how the net might change the nature of debate:

Thanks to everyone for wading in, especially those of you who are marshalling reasoned arguments and sharing actual sources and references, showing you’ve done your homework, and helping other people to see the data that helped to shape your point of view.

We need a LOT more of that in this discussion, rather than slinging unsupported allegations back and forth.

Bringing this back to tech – showing the data behind your argument is a lot like open source. It’s a way of verifying the “code” that’s inside your head. If you can’t show us your code, it’s a lot harder to trust your results!

Links as source code for your thinking: that’s a meme that should survive the particulars of this particular debate!

But enough of me. What do you think?