- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2001

As so many of us are aware, Bill Clinton did a lot of damage during his eight years as president and has left many messes for the Bush administration to clean up. Pardons for sale and missing furniture are just the tip of the iceberg. The truly damaging legacy left by Mr. Clinton and his big-government cronies were all of his actions to increase the size and scope of government, through tax increases, power-and-land-grabbing executive orders and increased litigation.

One of those regulatory legacies is the government's ridiculous antitrust case against Microsoft. It's a huge mess that the new team must now sort through to decide how to clean it up.

After nearly three years arguing this case, government lawyers have yet to demonstrate any harm to a single consumer in this country from actions taken by Microsoft. By any criteria, consumers across this country have benefited tremendously by the actions of Microsoft and the industry, resulting in better products and lower prices. As a former adviser to Microsoft and someone who has been involved in many aspects of the technology industry, I've seen first-hand the true benefits of these technologies.

In fact, the only possible harm to consumers comes from the actions of the government. Its decision to bring this ridiculous case has cost taxpayers $35 million. If the government is successful in this case, especially in its pursuit of a radical remedy, it will institute the largest regulatory intervention this industry has ever seen. As our economy shows serious signs of weakness, the last thing we need is the establishment of a "U.S. Department of Software Oversight" dictating how the industry should and should not design products and serve customers.

The case against Microsoft was never about consumers; it was always about helping Microsoft's competitors, pure and simple. Sun Microsystems and its chairman, Scott McNealy, initiated an effort called Project Sherman, which was recently exposed. A Boston Globe article described this project, which cost Sun more than $3 million, as "a secret legal-research team that worked with the government to nail Microsoft." During the Microsoft trial, it was revealed that Netscape's Jim Barksdale had antitrust chief Joel Klein over to his house for breakfast to discuss the case. In fact, when asked on the stand why he did not simply bring a case of his own, Mr. Barksdale replied that it was "too expensive." So the result is taxpayers pick up the tab for companies like Sun, Netscape and Oracle, doing to Microsoft in court what they could not do in the marketplace.

When all is said and done, not only has this case harmed consumers and taxpayers through wasted tax dollars and the chilling of innovation, it has caused serious damage to our investor class. According to noted market analyst James Glassman, this case "played a major role" in the 50 percent drop in the tech-dominated NASDAQ. Larry Kudlow, a renowned economist and CNBC commentator, said the market was harmed, "as the prosperity-killing and wealth-destroying implications of the federal government's anti-trust-busting regulatory overreach fully dawned on 100 million or so investor class members."

Except for Bill Clinton's Justice Department, Microsoft's competitors, their paid supporters and a few, mostly Democrat, state attorneys general, it's virtually impossible to find anyone who supports the continuation of this litigation. While a few well-known conservatives have gotten a great deal of attention recently for supporting this case, among conservatives and free-market supporters, this issue is settled and there is no support. I am in touch with conservative leaders and grass-roots taxpayer activists across this nation and with the exception of one small think-tank, Robert Bork and Ken Starr all of whom receive financial backing from Microsoft's rivals free-market activists and leaders are virtually unanimous in their criticism of this case. They understand that this effort to regulate the software industry is bad for the economy and the free market.

There simply are no members of the broad coalition of free-market conservatives and independents who support the government's radical intervention in this industry. There is absolutely no political support for the U.S. government to destroy the engine of the new economy. This case is being driven by a few trial-lawyer attorneys general and radical European regulators, and a few large competitors.

Now that the D.C. Court of Appeals has overturned most of the government's case, it is a good time to end it.

I urge the Department of Justice and the state attorneys general to simply drop this litigation it has done enough damage. Don't appeal, don't settle and don't let this drag the economy down any longer just end it. In addition, I'd also like to urge Oracle, Sun, AOL and Netscape that in the future they should address their competitive problems in the marketplace, not through government-assisted litigation on the taxpayers' dime. Also, Microsoft should not seek to recover any damages or countersue; it should simply accept an apology and let the matter drop.

Ending this lawsuit and ending this type of competitor-driven regulatory action in the future is one of the best ways to do just that.


Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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