The Democratic convention was a blast from the past. Big-business bashing. Class warfare rhetoric. Promises of government goodies for an endless list of interest groups. Not once during the four-day political spectacle were the words "New Economy" spoken on stage by the candidates. Growth, opportunity, upward mobility, innovation, free trade--the critical issues of the day were basically ignored for hoary "us vs. them" political discourse.
The best that can be said for the sad performance is that it is merely tactical. It solidifies the base of the Democratic Party, especially the unions that help turn out the vote. The line from the politicos is that later in the campaign, Vice-President Al Gore and his running mate, Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, can tack back to the center to win the hearts and minds of surburbanites and New Economy voters in general.
Maybe. But the strategy is risky. The shift to an information-based economy occurred mostly under a two-term Democratic Administration. Gore, proud of his own Net surfing, could legitimately claim its new class of voters as his own. By not speaking to their more centrist issues at the beginning of the campaign, he risks alienating them at the end.
The term New Economy was no more mentioned at the Republican convention in Philadelphia than in Los Angeles. George W. Bush's policy recommendation, one huge income-tax cut to cure all ills, is yet another blast from the past. The New Economy needs sustained capital investment, not more consumer spending. The GOP's proposed $1.3 billion tax cut over 10 years, which comes at a time when the Federal Reserve is trying to dampen runaway growth, can actually lead to higher interest rates.
The transition to a fast-growth, technology-based economy requires serious debate about the best New Economy policies for the nation. How can innovation be spurred? What do you do in a high-tech recession? What kind of antitrust policy works when information industries tend toward monopoly? What's the best way to educate kids to participate in the Information Economy? How can privacy be guaranteed on the Net?
Indeed, one question is what is government's role, if any, in the growing public backlash against airlines, HMOs, drug, and oil companies? Gore received an unexpectedly large bounce in the polls after the convention, in part thanks to his business bashing. Apparently, discontent with Corporate America goes well beyond the protesters in Seattle and on campus.
These are key questions that demand serious analysis. There is time enough before the Nov. 7 election for Democrats and Republicans to stop echoing the past and start thinking about the future.