Is E-Commerce a Campaign Issue?

Those cheers that erupted in Silicon Valley and all the other technology hotbeds last week were not over a stock market spike or stellar earnings reports. The roar of approval came from tech executives who were elated over Vice President Al Gore’s bold choice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) as his running mate in the presidential election.

Many high-tech executives consider Lieberman a special friend of their industry, and they could hardly contain their glee. Word of the choice was still echoing across the country when former Netscape chief Marc Andreessen and others in the Internet world were stepping up to the microphone to praise Lieberman’s long-standing support of the New Economy.

Lieberman does have a strong track record. He favors an increase in H-1B visas to allow a greater number of qualified foreign workers to enter the United States — an urgent wish list item for the labor-strapped high-tech sector. He favors opening up what many say will be a vast new e-commerce market by clearing the way for full trade with China. Also, Lieberman was an early co-sponsor of the latest anti-spam bill to be passed in Congress.

Advantage: Who?

So, move all those Silicon Valley, Route 128, Research Triangle, and other high-tech hotbed votes — and perhaps more importantly, all that financial support — to the Democratic column, right?

Not so fast. The Republicans have their own legions of supporters in the industry. What is interesting, in fact, is that both sides have gone to great lengths to position themselves as the team that can lead the New Economy to even greater heights.

It is true that Bush and Cheney don’t have the same high-tech credentials as the Democrats. But they have something else: business experience. Both candidates have been high-level executives in the oil industry. And while big oil and high-tech are two completely different animals, that experience allows Bush and Cheney to make the argument that they are good for e-business because they are more in tune with business in general.

The Republican Party has a strong historical connection to business and industry and a deeply entrenched philosophy of keeping government hands off. Even latent fears that the G.O.P. might steer the country out of prosperity by hacking taxes and bumping the deficit back up probably are not enough to change any votes, given how strong the economy is right now.

So who would be better for e-commerce? It doesn’t matter.

We Built This City

Even though the Democrats will spend much of the remaining two-and-a-half months prior to the election touting their stewardship of the longest peacetime economic boom in history, anyone who is capable of objectivity should recognize that what made the boom possible was entrepreneurship, not government policy.

Did bringing down the Federal budget deficit help? Sure, but prosperity did not result from a single economic stroke — even one of that magnitude. Almost all the ingredients for the big pot of boom stew were supplied by the private sector.

The base came from venture capitalists, who recognized that the future was arriving sooner than expected and took action to be part of it, doling out record amounts of cash. The meat came from individual business people, who were willing to take big chances to develop their great ideas.

Many of those daring entrepreneurs started up their new companies after the giant, overblown firms that defined the boom of the 1980s laid them off. Ironic, isn’t it? (Unfortunately, irony doesn’t play in Peoria, so don’t expect Bush to admit that the bad economic times during his father’s administration made these good ones possible.)

The vegetables came from the workers who, for the most part, trained themselves to assume critical positions in the New Economy. Think of it. Of the millions of people employed in Internet ventures right now, how many received formal training in their specialties? Very few.

The government may have added some spice in the form of tightly targeted tax cuts and infrastructure improvements — but nothing you can sink your teeth into. The Federal Reserve regulated the flame heating up stock market investments from — that’s right — the private sector.

Stand Clear

Both political parties know that the best way to keep the run going is to keep the government’s fingers out of the pot as much as possible. This, of course, is pretty much the standard party line of the Republicans anyway. But now the Democrats have taken a page from their playbook, angering some labor leaders and others in the process. Think of it: While the Democrats occupied the White House, no one made a serious effort to slap a tax on Internet sales.

The fact is that it will probably be harder for the next president to mess up the economic growth of the country than to keep it going. The recipe is simple, and the cook is not even on the payroll.

So e-commerce boosters can safely cast their votes based on any of the other issues that may be important to them. They can listen closely to the campaign and the debates and choose the best team for reasons other than what is good for business. Rest assured, neither one of the two main competitors is eager to steal away the country’s good fortunes. They just want to steal the credit.

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