The Best President for E-Business

Since the last U.S. presidential election, e-business has evolved from dot-com buzzword into thriving industry, and it is difficult to ignore its increasing impact on the world economic scene. As the 2004 presidential campaigns heat up, therefore, it seems logical to question where the leading candidates stand on this issue.

So far, however, George W. Bush, John Kerry and John Edwards are not chatting at length about e-business. Gartner vice president Christopher Baum told the E-Commerce Times that the candidates have addressed e-commerce in only limited ways so far.

Making matters more difficult is that having a Web site has morphed from indicator of high-tech savvy to standard operating procedure. A perusal of all three candidates’ sites yields a great deal of similar navigation, content — and bands of red, white and blue.

“As society goes, so goes politics,” Baum said. “The Internet will be increasingly used by all candidates for all kinds of political offices. Voters will be able to get more information about how a candidate thinks, but it won’t be an indication of how technologically aware they are.”

Even so, some insight can be gleaned from the candidates’ voting records and comments. Mainly, their stands on general technology and business issues can, to some extent, be used to determine their thoughts about e-business. So, what does the public record show?

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Although many issues, ranging from government regulation to taxation, affect e-business, a major one that likely will come up numerous times before the election is job growth.

After all, the technology and e-business industries shed jobs at an alarming rate during the dot-com implosion a few years ago. Since then, job creation has been modest at best.

John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the E-commerce Times that the two leading Democratic candidates have similar opinions about the importance of job creation, whereas President Bush tends to lean toward a more business-friendly approach.

Free Trade vs. Fair Trade

The issue most at hand is global outsourcing, Challenger said. Technology workers have bristled at the number of jobs being exported to India and other new high-tech areas. Challenger noted that although Kerry is arguing for fair trade over free trade, it is Edwards who is most vociferous about the issue.

“He’s very insistent that we shouldn’t let our technology workforce suffer the same fate as our manufacturing workforce,” he said.

Bush, on the other hand, is arguing that free trade is good for U.S. technology in the long run because it will create more opportunities to tap into expanded markets and gain worldwide consumers.

“They’re all posturing on jobs,” Challenger said. “I think it comes down to whether you’re on the side for business growth or for job creation. It will be interesting to see where those issues intersect.”

Regulatory Thinking

Another pertinent issue for the candidates has been regulation of business by government. Here, again, the Democrats lean toward a more employee-centered view, while Bush tends to favor business interests.

As David Mark, editor-in-chief of Campaigns & Elections magazine, told the E-Commerce Times: “Bush is definitely more hands-off when it comes to regulating businesses, including e-businesses.”

Mark added that if a Democrat is elected to the White House, it is possible that all types of business will see more regulation.

“Both Kerry and Edwards are wary about lifting regulations,” he said. “In general, they want more restrictions.”

Shades of Gray

In many ways, pointing to a specific candidate as the best president for e-business is difficult. Gartner’s Baum noted that despite their differing stands on innovation and global outsourcing, the candidates are united in taking a general, positive stance on the importance of e-business — and leaving it at that.

“They’ve all said that the use of the Internet to bolster the economy is an area where the U.S. needs to retain the lead,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s not mentioned in position papers.”

He noted that this lack of emphasis on e-business is not surprising, given the way the election is going. “This is a race that’s more about social issues and overall revenue,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got this emphasis on gay marriage. The Internet, technology and business, in terms of policy, aren’t going to make or break this election.”

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