Five Questions: My interview with Dave Johnson of CAF at Netroots Nation 2013

This is the second in a series of interviews I call Five Questions, conducted at Netroots Nation 2013. The subject today is Dave Johnson, a very good writer who works at Campaign for America’s Future. Dave also blogs at Seeing the Forest.

Dave’s areas of expertise include U.S. manufacturing, trade policy and corporate wealth.

I caught up with Dave on the second morning of the conference — it really was morning, very pre-coffee — and set up the recorder at one of the large round tables provided in the broad hallway for attendees to sit, chat and catch up with their email between panel events. (At one point, Dave took a poll of those at the table and you’ll hear their answers.)

Five Questions with Dave Johnson

Writer Dave Johnson

Writer Dave Johnson

Johnson is a fascinating man. That deadpan expression belies an incredible sense of humor. I began by asking him the same three questions I asked everyone this year — Is the U.S. approaching deadlines? Which deadlines will hit first? How will climate play out in the next few years? — and for the second time in a row, the person I was interviewing mentioned climate before I did. (Sam Seder was the first.)

That would be one of the surprising themes of this year’s interviews. Everyone I spoke with mentioned climate before I did.

But as interesting as those answers were, I really recommend listening to his answers to my questions 4 and 5, the tale of his personal and intellectual journey, starting at 8:12.

I knew Dave was involved in high tech and the Silicon Valley “experience” — believe me, it is an experience — but I didn’t know to what degree, and what that experience did (and didn’t do) for him.


About his life in Silicon Valley:

“Then I started a company [but] I wouldn’t do certain things … I wouldn’t cold-heartedly lay people off, I wouldn’t sell certain kinds of products … and I didn’t believe in patents, so it didn’t go over time, and I wound up broke. And what happened was I burned out and went to the Board and said I gotta go … I spent a few years living in Santa Cruz on no money … squeaking by and … I re-awoke. I came out of this Silicon Valley money dream thing, I found myself, and time slowed down.”

“I found myself, and time slowed down” is one of the great gifts. I wish it for us all.

Dave and I have similar views of corporations. He says this:

“Corporations don’t think, they don’t act; people act. … This is about things people do and masks they use to make a lot of money. [About the Koch brothers] It’s not ideology that climate change is a hoax. It’s not an ideology that we should have lower taxes … It’s something that serves those billionaires really well.”

Keep that in mind when listening to corporate and billionaires defending themselves. It’s only a cover story. They’re feeding well; what comes out of their mouth has nothing to do with what goes into it.

All Five Questions interviews

Here’s the complete list of this year’s Five Questions interviews. These will be published over the next few weeks in this order:

■ Sam Seder of
■ Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future and (this interview)
■ Richard (RJ) Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future and Huffington Post
■ digby of Hullabaloo
■ Marcy Wheeler of
■ Joel Silbermanactor and media trainer — almost every good congressperson on our side, Joel has worked with them
GottaLaff, actress, writer, director and co-proprietress of

I’ll update this list with links as the interviews are published. Thanks for listening.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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