What Clinton Expects From `Senator Science'

In photographs, they look almost like twins: two Bible Belt baby boomers, white, a little pudgy, serious to a fault. But there is more to Bill Clinton's selection of Al Gore as his running mate than a concerted appeal to the South or a desire for a "new generation" ticket. Clinton is a fan of Gore's high-tech industrial strategy and hopes to use the Tennessee senator's Capitol Hill connections to help turn his ideas into law.

What Gore and Clinton seek is nothing less than a fundamental overhaul of government's role in the economy. They believe Washington should become a catalyst for job creation and private investment. That kind of talk has new Democrats cheering--and Bush operatives sharpening their knives.

Gore is full of ambitious ideas. He has long favored creation of a high-speed "computer superhighway" linking universities, research labs, hospitals, schools, and factories. The Bush Administration liked the concept so much that the White House hijacked it, pushed legislation through Congress late last year--and shut Gore out of the signing ceremony. Undaunted, Gore wants to go on to digital libraries, a national research-and-education network, an environmental research-and-development program, and a larger role for government in creating civiliantechnology.

RUSTING DINOSAURS. The new thrust is welcomed by young Democrats put off by their party's identification with shrinking industrial unions and Rust Belt manufacturing dinosaurs. "We need an economic game plan--a technology policy and defense conversion plan," says House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "It's going to take the cooperation of business, government, and labor to pull it off."

The Clinton camp hopes Gore's economic activism will be a plus in any debate with Vice-President Dan Quayle. Until he was tapped by Bush in 1988, Quayle was an obscure Midwestern senator beloved by conservatives. By contrast, Gore has worked hard to establish an image as a Big Think futurist, knowledgeable about everything from biotech to fiber optics.

And while Quayle's Council on Competitiveness has fought new clean-air regulations, Gore led the Senate delegation to the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and is the author of Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, which calls for stronger environmental controls. The impatient Gore--he dropped out of both divinity school and law school and ran for President in 1988, before he'd finished his first Senate term--clearly has his own agenda. "The task of saving the earth's environment must and will become the central organizing principle of the post-cold-war world," Gore told BUSINESS WEEK.

This kind of talk has occasionally led Gore's supporters to call him Senator Science. But his detractors have another name: "International environmental extremist," charges Republican Party Chairman Richard S. Bond.

Gore's industrial-policy ideas also draw GOP fire. Republicans complain that his fondness for intervention would lead to futile attempts to pick winners and losers. "I'd rather have a President who knows nothing than one who listens to Al Gore," grumbles William F. Martin, a former Reagan White House national security aide dispatched to New York to sow doubts about Gore.

Conservatives' unhappiness with Gore will only intensify when he hops off the campaign bus to attend to Senate chores. At the top of his agenda: playing a major role as the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up legislation to shift weapons research and production to civilian technologies.

`DRAMATIC SHIFT.' Clinton is a big fan of schemes to convert military production capacity to civilian use. And defense-conversion schemes won't hurt the ticket a bit in vote-rich California, where defense cutbacks have battered the economy. Gore disagrees with some Democratic colleagues who want to slow the decline in military spending to protect defense jobs. Instead, he favors "a dramatic shift in federal priorities and thinking" toward an economic, not military, battleground.

The high-tech industrial policy favored by Clinton and Gore presents GOP gunners with an inviting target. But with the economy stagnant and defense cuts taking a heavy toll on manufacturing jobs, the "double Bubbas" have a real chance to turn a potential liability into a winning edge.

      As Clinton's running mate, the Tennessee senator will stress his plans for:
      COMPUTER SUPERHIGHWAY linking universities, research labs, hospitals, and 
      factories along a nationwide fiber-optic network
      ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP, which Gore wants to capitalize on by promoting a new 
      industry: environmental technology that could be exported worldwide
      HIGH-TECH INDUSTRIAL POLICY using government funds to develop new manufacturing 
      technologies that small and midsize companies could share
      DEFENSE CONVERSION, a managed shift to civilian production from weapons 
      laboratories and factories
      DATA: BW
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