Joe Six-Pack tries to keep politics at bay
June 13, 2000
by Irwin Stelzer
SUNDAY TIMES (London) June 4, 2000
It takes less than 48 hours to realise how little attention most Americans are paying to the plotting and scheming that is the one industry of this nation's capital.
I started the day in Washington DC with a conversation with some political pundits about the two topics that are absorbing the political class. How can Rick Lazio, an unknown young congressman from New York, in a few days pull even with celebrity-victim Hillary Clinton in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by the distinguished Pat Moynihan?
And how can it be that vice- president Al Gore, riding the wave of his boss's popularity, an economic boom, and peace in our time, is trailing the allegedly lightweight George WBush in the national polls?
The answer is the same in both cases: the voters do not like Hillary and they do not much like Gore either. In the case of Mrs Clinton, white professional women in particular find her willingness to absorb humiliation and her lack of any personal accomplishment unappealing.
The pundits find Gore's problem more difficult to diagnose. The vice-president has shed one persona after another in search of one he can present as his real self - with no luck. But he continues to try.
Leave Washington and in 15 minutes none of this matters. In place of Hillary and Al we have the Virginia suburbs and the new economy. Even from the highway one catches a glimpse of one prosperous suburb after another, and of one gleaming new office tower after another.
The office towers are emblazoned with the names of companies that did not even exist a few years ago. These now form the core of developments that typically include a high-rise hotel, a shopping centre, cinemas and the inevitable fitness centre - "fringe cities" in the jargon of the day.
The only complaint from the residents of this slice of Virginia - the snobbery of the state's old-money horsey set aside - is that workers at AOL are so rich it is impossible to bid against them for houses - a problem of the rich facing competition from the richer.
From Dulles airport I travelled to Phoenix - from 45F (7.2C) to the cool of a desert evening, a mere 102F (38.8C) - and to a part of the country in which Hillary exists only as a reminder of how she and her husband have brought dishonour to the office of the president and Gore is given no chance of receiving a significant number of votes. This is John McCain country, where government's two jobs are to preserve law and order and stay out of the way of the region's thrusting entrepreneurs and wheeler-dealer property developers.
Like the rest of the southwest and, further north, the Rocky Mountain region, Arizona is booming. More important, the good times are expected to roll on into 2001 and beyond. The consensus in the business community and among economy-watchers is that jobs, retail sales and personal incomes in Arizona will all show healthy rises this year and again in 2001.
Much of this growth is fuelled by immigrants, legal and otherwise. As in Colorado and Silicon Valley, Arizona's labour pool has been drained by the rapid growth in construction, retailing, services and other industries.
So just as Silicon Valley is looking to India and the Philippines for computer-savvy workers, the southwest and the Rocky Mountain states rely on Mexican immigrants to get houses built, lawns tended, and hotels kept in order for the hordes of tourists attracted by the weather, the golf courses, mountain trails and attractions that range from nature's Grand Canyon and Sonoran Desert to man's Las Vegas casinos.
But just as the stretch of Virginia between the capital and Dulles airport is now the home of buildings that are monuments to the rapid technological change and capital- investment boom that is sweeping the country, so the southwest and the Rockies are becoming more than tourist playgrounds.
In Colorado, centre of the cable industry, Boulder, benefiting from the attraction of its climate and the University of Colorado, has become a haven for techno-entrepreneurs who want to escape overcrowded California.
And in Arizona, a similar blend of an agreeable climate and what has come to be called "life style" combines with the presence of the medical centre at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and institutions such as the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, to attract firms specialising in optics and artificial-heart research. The area is helped in this regard, of course, by its large elderly, affluent population, a demographic and income confluence that makes the practice of medicine a joy to doctors and their financial advisers.
Although Joe Six-Pack (our man on the Clapham omnibus) and the area's employers choose to ignore national politics most of the time, they will soon have to pay some attention to what the candidates are saying. The pensioners will start wondering whether George W's plan to allow a portion of social-security funds to be invested in shares, or Gore's proposal to stay with the status quo, is best for them and their baby-boomer offspring. Medical institutions will be pondering the financial impact of Gore's proposal to expand Medicare coverage.
The soccer moms will be wondering which candidate is more likely to keep down the cost of fuelling their giant sports utility vehicles, and the soccer dads will want to know just how far Gore will go to deprive them of the right to bear arms to defend their homes and families. Employers and the trade unions will want to know which candidate is likely to loosen restrictions in immigration.
But for now, and probably until the baseball season winds down in October, Washington and its politics are far away - which is where most residents in this part of the world wish they would stay.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.