- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

The decision yesterday by President Bush's Justice Department not to pursue the breakup of Microsoft did more than make good on a Bush campaign pledge.
The decision, Republicans close to the administration confided, rested on three legs — philosophical, economic and political.
"The Clinton Justice Department went after Microsoft as if to punish it for being so hugely successful in the marketplace," a former Bush campaign adviser said privately. "That philosophic, anti-business bent hurt business confidence, especially in the high-technology industries, which already are in something of a recession.
"And Bush, eager to promote economy recovery, has shown he wants to help that industry, to remove threats of government-engineered breakups and finally to show this Republican administration is out to reward, not punish, success in business," he added.
The third leg on which the decision rested was the Bush administration's having perceived a political dimension to the Microsoft case. "Washington state was very competitive last year. The Bush political team thinks he can win the state next time," the former Bush campaign adviser said.
Democrats noted that Microsoft is a financial contributor to the Republican Party and that company executives have been guests at the Bush White House.
Republican analysts, however, said that the economics of the lagging economy, not the economics of campaign contributions, was the concern in this case.
In that sense, economics is politics, according to Tom Cole, a national Republican campaign strategist and former Republican National Committee chief of staff. "And anything that promotes recovery helps the administration and Republicans running for office next year."
The specifically political leg of the decision goes back to the 2000 elections, and to the headquarters of the giant software company in Washington state. Microsoft employs 22,800 people in the Puget Sound region of the state. Worldwide, it has a work force of 42,000 people.
After holding a lead in Washington state during last year's presidential election campaign, Mr. Bush lost the state to former Vice President Al Gore by 138,681 votes in November.
Bush political advisers now believe, however, as one of them put it privately yesterday, that "we'll be highly competitive in Washington state next time."
Before the Democratic presidential nominating convention in the summer of 2000, Mr. Bush was far ahead of Mr. Gore in the state and was "overperforming in the Seattle market," a Bush campaign adviser recalled.
"I thought that was odd and I remember asking a Bush campaign pollster why, and he said, 'It's one thing: Microsoft. It's not so much that they love George W. Bush as that they are mad at Bill Clinton.'"
Chris Vance, Washington State Republican party chairman, said the biggest factor in Mr. Bush's failure to win the state was the television networks' early, erroneous claims that Mr. Gore had won Florida. "By 6 p.m. [Pacific Time], radio stations out here already were talking about 'President-elect Gore.'"
He said another factor was that his predecessor, who was state party chairman at the time, failed to spend about $1 million that had been sent to the party for identifying and getting voters to the polls. "That hurt a lot," Mr. Vance said.
"Bush made it crystal clear he was not dedicated to destroying Microsoft the way Clinton was," said Mr. Vance.
"All those Microsoft employees are not saying, 'Good, we have a president who wants to help us keep our job.' Rather, they're saying, 'Bush and the Republican Party care about high-tech issues.' It dispels the notion fostered by Jay Leno and David Letterman that Bush is a right-wing extremist dummy."
Mr. Cole said the Justice Department decision, while not predicated on political considerations alone, does help Mr. Bush and his party.
"There was a lot of skepticism not just among Republicans but with the public about why the government was going after one of the country's most successful companies," said Mr. Cole.
"Microsoft has a high favorable rating with the public in all polls, its employees are very happy with it, and the Bush Justice Department now reverses the Clinton policy of punishing a business just because it's successful," Mr. Cole said.
"These are economically more challenging times, and people are careful about doing anything about upsetting the apple cart for a large company that employs lots of people," said Mr. Cole. "The administration doesn't want to do anything that is economically counterproductive to the recovery of the economy," said Mr. Cole.
That Mr. Bush cares about the high-tech industry is expected to play well in other states with high concentrations of workers in the digital-technology industries.
But the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee criticized the decision. "In my judgment, eliminating prosecutorial options at the same time that the defendant has failed to yield any of its own options threatens to weaken and slow down the case," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.
He demanded records of any contacts between the White House and Justice Department on the case.
* Researcher John Haydon contributed to this report.


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