Bush Plays the ‘Microsoft Card’

Earlier this week, Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush hinted that he would not have allowed the U.S. to take antitrust action against the Microsoft empire.

Despite emphasizing that he would not comment directly on the ongoing case, Bush said at a news conference Monday that, “If you’re looking for the kind of president I will be, I’ll be slow to litigate.” Bush added that he would consider potential antitrust action by first asking “Are the entities innovative, are jobs being created, the economy better off?”

Protestations aside, it was obvious to me that Bush was playing the “Microsoft Card” for all it was worth. He was reportedly flanked by representatives of high-tech companies, including Microsoft, and what’s more, Washington Senator Slade Gorton told reporters that a President Bush would try to settle the Microsoft case without breaking up the company.

Campaign Rhetoric

Bush made his remarks 15 miles from Microsoft’s corporate headquarters on a campaign swing before Tuesday’s Washington primary. Bush trounced Arizona Senator John McCain by a double-digit margin in the contest.

When the Bush camp was pressed for clarification on the candidate’s comments, spokesman Scott McClellan explained them away in typical political doublespeak:

“[Bush] did say he stands on the side of innovation, not litigation,” McClellan said. He added that “the governor has made it clear, he is not going to discuss it” so long as the case remains in litigation.

Legal Limbo

The Microsoft case is awaiting a final verdict from a federal judge who already has found that the software giant has a monopoly over personal computer operating software and has repeatedly tried to squelch competition to defend its market dominance.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks on whether Microsoft violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Officials for the Justice Department and the 19 states that brought the case have said that breaking the company up is one of a number of remedies that could result.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has stepped up the rhetoric on its own end. In an e-mail to congressional offices last month, Microsoft said that any proposal to break up the company is “the equivalent of a regulatory death sentence.”

New President Will Have Little Impact

What made Bush’s comments about Microsoft seem disingenuous to some industry observers is that whomever is elected president in November will likely have little impact on the case. Whatever the next president thinks of the Microsoft case, he will not be able to ignore the wishes of 19 state attorneys general.

Therefore, it appears that Bush now holds the distinction of being the first presidential candidate to successfully play the “Microsoft Card” to win votes. One wonders if the kings in this new deck of cards bear a striking resemblance to one William Gates of Redmond, Washington.

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