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Gorton hangs trial on Gore – will MS become an election issue?

'Big government, freedom to innovate, heavy hand of regulation...'

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The Microsoft trial has shuffled closer to the centre stage of the presidential election, following an attack on the US government and the case by Senator Slade Gorton. Gorton getting stuck into the DoJ isn't exactly news; as the senator for Washington, Microsoft's home state, he's been defending our boys' freedom to innovate stoutly all along the way - but this time it's kind of official, making the trial much more likely to turn into a stick for the Bush campaign to beat Gore with.

Gorton's latest lash-out took place on Saturday, in the weekly GOP radio address, and was largely a determined effort to hang the antritrust albatross around Gore's neck. The Clinton-Gore administration does of course have ultimate responsibility for what happens to Microsoft, but Gore would prefer to be seen as loftily and responsibly not interfering in the judicial process. Bush himself is somewhat more aligned with Gorton, but it'd look bad if he just flat-out announced that after victory, he'd pull the plugs on the whole show. That would be interfering with the judicial process in spades.

So enter the good senator for Redmond, whose broadcast on behalf of the GOP can be used to send out messages without overly incriminating Dubya. (We at The Register, by the way, have no great problem with Gorton doing his job on behalf of his electorate and their sources of employ - the senator for Novell does pretty much the same for the other camp, and 'tis the way of the world.)

Gorton's pitch in his new (semi-?) official role was in line with his previous pronouncements. The "Clinton-Gore administration's proposed solution is almost too amazing to be true," he says, neatly slicing through several layers of the judiciary in order to attach the tin can to Gore. The administration's solution, he adds in a somewhat imaginatively inaccurate precis of Judge Jackson's verdict, "is to break up the company and put government employees in positions to supervise a divided Microsoft company."

He rams this home by suggesting "software developers [will] have to check in with the federal government every time they get a new idea," and slides gracefully into the Big Picture with: "We understand that the best role for government is to allow our workers to continue to create new and better products that enrich our lives - free from the federal government's heavy hand of regulation."

If this one plays, Gorton has plenty more ammunition, as he's obviously a lot more directly concerned with saving Microsoft from the noose than Bush is. Gorton's previous pronouncements include:

"Every other time Al Gore's campaigned in our state he's managed to dodge questions about the Microsoft legal action. But we think it's time his feet were held to the fire. What exactly does he think about the Microsoft lawsuit? If he were president, would he support the Microsoft breakup? Do you support your Justice Department's attempt to turn Microsoft into a government-run software company? Do you really think that software will be improved by having Microsoft employees check in with the federal government every time they have a new idea? C'mon, Mr. Gore - we're waiting for your answers...

"This trial started as a sham, was a sham throughout the process, and ends as a sham... According to the crazy logic of this administration, though, if you're successful you must be punished.  Slade has stood squarely on the side of freedom and innovation from day one, and he will continue to do so...

"The Clinton-Gore Justice Department should abandon its effort to tear down a company that has been a tremendous creator of jobs and prosperity in the Northwest. The government should get out of the high tech business and allow the thousands of Microsoft employees to continue to create new products that improve and enrich our lives."

That's the sort of stuff Gorton has been saying all along, and of itself it's not news. But if the Bush campaign detects positive feedback from his broadcast, it could well become the sort of thing Dubya starts saying too, and the case would then become a major issue. Meaning big Big Government problems for Al and, not entirely inconceivably, a Microsoft election. ®

Related story:
This week's Washington Roundup
Little helper for MS and Bush says sorry, keeps both jobs

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