Mark Zuckerberg is an extraordinary young man who at age 28 has achieved things that most people in Silicon Valley can only envy. He also has a lot to learn about politics.
You may have read how Zuckerberg's political group is funding TV spots on behalf of Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, taking stands that many tech industry veterans would privately decry.
The idea is to give the politicians political "cover" in exchange for supporting key immigration proposals that Facebook wants, primarily a loosening of H1B visas.
The TV spots laud Graham for fighting Obamacare and commend Begich for working to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.
Neither of those messages is central to the thinking of Silicon Valley. In fact, they would irritate a lot of Facebook users and managers.
In adopting Machiavellian tactics, Zuckerberg has done more than upset his core constituency. In a real sense, the Facebook CEO has raised questions about what he and his company stand for.
"It's incredibly cynical," says Phil Trounstine, my former colleague and the co-founder of the political website Calbuzz. "It makes people believe that it's all just a game. And it's not a game. People are struggling for real stakes.'
Here's the rule about politics that all Zuckerberg's billions have not taught him. Political opponents forgive self-interest. They don't understand the jab in the eye.
A Midwestern politician critical of tech has no problem understanding why a Silicon Valley company would push hard for more favorable tax treatment. That's self-interest.
If that same company wants to engage in hardball tactics over something that has little to do with its bottom line -- let's say, an oil pipeline -- then eyebrows are raised.
You can fashion a short-term rationale for what Zuckerberg and his political group, FWD.US, are doing. But the people who practice politics most intelligently keep a long-term perspective.
"From Zuckerberg's perspective, if he wants to get moderation out of a Republican, he has to help protect that Republican from a challenge from the right," says political consultant Rich Robinson.
"But it's a hugely dangerous game. Ultimately, he wins the battle and loses the war."
Asking for help
A quick illustration makes the point: The day may come when Facebook's major issue is not H1B visas -- but, say, defeating a push to enact stricter federal privacy standards.
Zuckerberg might call up President Obama to ask for help. And I guarantee you one of the first questions from the Obama people will be, "Why did you oppose Obamacare?"
At that point, Zuckerberg's attempt to explain that he was trying to give cover to Lindsey Graham will not win him any new White House friends.
Maybe all this should come as no surprise. The head of a company that encourages people to heed their friends' likes in choosing a restaurant doesn't scrutinize the cooking.
The first rule in public life is to know what you don't know. The Harvard dropout still needs to take Politics 101.