If they were true profit-maximizers--textbook illustrations of rational self-interest--American corporations and their top executives would be flooding Al Gore's campaign with money, and not George W.'s. Rather than gamble on an unknown W., they'd bet on a proven Al Gore.
No administration in modern history has been as good for American business as has the Clinton-Gore team; none has been as solicitous of the concerns of business leaders, generated as much profit for business, presided over as buoyant a stock market or as huge a run-up in executive pay. And no vice president in modern history has had as much influence in setting an administration's agenda as has Al Gore.
Consider fiscal policy. You'll recall that by 1992, after 12 years of Republicans in the White House, the nation's debt had almost quadrupled, from $914 billion to $4 trillion, and yearly deficits had quintupled from $59 billion to more than $300 billion. In response, the Fed had jacked up interest rates and stalled the economy. Clinton-Gore reversed the trend. What you may not know is that Gore was the more hawkish of the two. At White House budget meetings, Gore consistently called for even larger cuts than the president wanted to make.
Gore is still the voice of fiscal prudence. It was his idea to set the budget on track to eliminate the debt entirely by 2012. By contrast, W. is merrily following the profligate path of his father and Ronald Reagan, calling for a whopping tax cut. Can there be any doubt that Gore's brand of fiscal restraint has been better for business than supply-side tax cuts and yawning deficits? It made Alan Greenspan and company comfortable with lower rates, which have reduced the cost of business borrowing and kept profits humming.
Next, consider free trade. The Clinton-Gore administration has displayed greater relish for it than has any White House in recent memory, and has shown more consistent commitment to trade than to any other single policy objective. And here, too, Al Gore has been the champion. In 1994 he passionately advocated in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, taking on Ross Perot on national television. He successfully pressed for passage of the new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which established the World Trade Organization, and gave earnest support to the recent China trade bill, even in the face of strong resistance by organized labor. Gore was also an early enthusiast of the administration's trade missions that sent business leaders around the world drumming up trade deals.
Finally, look at Gore's record on "reinventing government." Previous Republicans in the White House talked about shrinking the federal government but allowed it to grow from 2.7 million federal employees in 1981 to 3 million in 1992. Gore did what the Republicans only aspired to do. Following the lead of private-sector managers who "re-engineered," outsourced, privatized, and cut their payrolls to the bone, Gore slashed the federal bureaucracy. Federal payrolls are now down to 2.6 million and still falling, even though the economy is far bigger than it was in the 1980s.
Gore also cut rules and red tape. He championed the White House efforts to liberalize banking regulations, give broadcasters and telecoms more freedom at the Federal Communications Commission (under the chairmanship of his old friend Reed Hundt), get the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to stop worrying about small infractions of worker safety laws, and make the Food and Drug Administration more generous in approving new drugs. Gore streamlined the federal procurement process. His "reinvention" team even tried to get rid of Davis-Bacon, which requires that the federal government pay "prevailing wages" on construction projects instead of shopping for the best deal (the effort failed, but Gore's "reinvention" captain, Elaine Kamarck, hasn't given up).
But doesn't the disastrous Clinton-Gore health care plan reveal the stealth liberal tendencies of the administration, and shouldn't businesses be worried about a repeat of something on this scale if Gore becomes president? No on both counts. The dirty little secret of that plan was how good it was for big business--it got corporations off the hook for paying hugely expensive employee health benefits--and how supportive business was of it until congressional Republicans cracked the whip. The plan's defeat marked a triumph of ideology over the pecuniary interests of corporate America. In any event, Gore was never an enthusiastic proponent of Clinton care.
But, hey, isn't Gore an environmental zealot, and didn't he say some pretty wild things in his book Earth in the Balance? Businesses should rest assured. Gore wrote the book before he became vice president. Look at his record since he entered the White House, and you find nothing but caution. Gore even urged the president to go slow on global warming and often sided with American companies who complained about excessive intrusions by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Clinton-Gore administration delivered on policies that Republicans failed to achieve--fiscal austerity, free trade, and a smaller government--and Al Gore was in the lead. This confirms a pattern to American politics: Once in office, recent Democratic presidents in an era of business dominance have had an easier time moving right rather than left from where they campaigned since their Democratic base has no one else to turn to. By the same logic, Republican presidents often have had more running room on the left, the epic example being Nixon going to China.
In short, Al Gore is the ideal candidate of American business, with a record to show for it. Business executives should know a good investment when they see one. That's what they're paid for. ¤