Al Gore still refuses to comment on the Microsoft lawsuit that has so devastated the stock market. Perhaps the internet-inventing veep, fresh from his near-uniform barrage of Democratic criticism for his pro-Elián position, is afraid to speak out on any more key issues of the day. But with six million investors directly owning Microsoft — whose capitalized market value plummeted a record-setting $80 billion yesterday — this issue could be a hot political topic.
By the way, indirect ownership of the software-maker through mutual funds and various pension systems could total up to 80 million investors. Microsoft is owned by nearly every managed fund in the country. So if the investor class votes their portfolios as well as their pocket books, this issue could determine the election outcome.
And it may not be pretty for the Al Gore Democrats.
According to a Rasmussen survey published March 30, 71% of Americans say that Microsoft has been good for consumers. This figure jumps to 83% among heavy-computer users. Fifty-eight percent do not want Microsoft dismantled. While head Clinton trust-buster Joel Klein believes that the recent district court decision will benefit consumers and also “set the ground rules for enforcement in the information age,” only 18% of all Americans think it will be better for computer users if government officials get to review technology products and marketing plans.
Among heavy-computer users, 47% say the Justice Department is a greater threat to the software industry than Microsoft. So, the recent NASDAQ collapse reflects broad-based American thinking. Not just investors, but computer users as well.
This makes some comments uttered by George Bush prior to Super Tuesday very interesting. Speaking in Seattle, Bush told reporters, “My first question will be, ‘Are the entities innovative, are jobs being created, and is the economy better off?’ As president, the question should be innovation as opposed to litigation.”
Bush then added, “I’m unsympathetic to lawsuits, basically; write that down. I’m worried about the effect of lawsuits on job creation.”
Clearly the Texan was on a roll, and it didn’t stop there. Decrying the current trend for big lawsuits seeking huge damages, Bush told reporters, “I’m a tort reformer. I have been a tort-reform governor. I’ll be a tort-reform president.”
This too could be an important election issue. After Joel Klein piled on Microsoft following Judge Jackson’s decision, various liberal state attorneys general got into the act. There can be little question that the gang of 19 state AGs who are co-authoring the Microsoft/Government lawsuit would like nothing more than to Tobaccoize Microsoft. Indeed, almost everywhere on cable TV there is Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal with New York AG Eliot Spitzer, limited only by the available volume of airtime.
Backed by their trial-lawyer allies who have taken a share of the hundreds of millions in tobacco winnings and plowed it back into Democratic Party coffers, no one should be surprised if the 115 private lawsuits already filed against Microsoft will expand even further. The tobacco shakedown looked to be world class. But the Microsoft effort may become interplanetary.
Of course, 31 states did not file against the software maker. And the Rasmussen polling data suggest they are much closer to the pulse of America than the Gang of 19, the Justice Department, or Messrs. Clinton and Gore.
There’s a huge wedge issue here for George Bush, if he’s true to his instincts and makes the case against anti-consumer and anti-growth and anti-stock-market trust busting.