Jack Shafer brought to my attention this terrific new Politico column by Michael Kinsley entitled, “How Microsoft Learned ABCs of D.C.” In the editorial, Kinsley touches on some of the same themes I addressed in my recent piece here “On Facebook ‘Normalizing Relations’ with Washington” as well as in my Cato Institute essay from last year on”The Sad State of Cyber-Politics.” Kinsley notes how Microsoft was originally bashed by many for not getting into the D.C. lobbying game early enough:
there even was a feeling that, in refusing to play the Washington game, Microsoft was being downright unpatriotic. Look, buddy, there is an American way of doing things, and that American way includes hiring lobbyists, paying lawyers vast sums by the hour, throwing lavish parties for politicians, aides, journalists and so on. So get with the program.
So that’s what Microsoft did. It moved its “government affairs” office out of distant Chevy Chase and into the downtown K Street corridor. It bulked up on lawyers and hired the best-connected lobbyists. Soon, Microsoft was coming under criticism for being heavy-handed in its attempts to buy influence.
Best of all, the finger of blame has moved on — to Google, which now gets the blame for everything. It is an evil monopoly that uses its monopoly power to extend that monopoly into new areas. It must be stopped before all of its competitors are wiped out. And so on. This is all very familiar to anyone who worked at Microsoft in the late 1990s and (it must be admitted) very enjoyable. Microsoft last week piled on, bringing charges against Google before the European Union (which had given Microsoft an especially hard time), accusing it of a variety of nefarious practices, including some the EU had formerly accused Microsoft of.
Like I said in my earlier essays, you can file this all under “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” For many years the shoe was on the other foot and Google was hammering Microsoft in court and in legislative and regulatory hearing rooms. But Microsoft now relishes its role as the ringleader of the rising War on Google and is using against Google the same antitrust playbook once used against them. Whether it’s the legal battle over Google Books, Department of Justice reviews of various Google acquisitions, or other fights, Microsoft now stalks Google at every turn. And, if we are to believe this new Bloomberg report (“Google Said to Be Possible Target of U.S. FTC Antitrust Probe“), there will soon be hell to pay.
Kinsley concludes his essay on miserable yet entirely appropriate note:
As the Microsoft example suggests, the Washington culture of influence peddling is not entirely, or even primarily, the fault of the corporations that hire the lobbyists and pay the bills. It’s a vast protection racket, practiced by politicians and political operatives of both parties. Nice little software company you’ve got here. Too bad if we have to regulate it or if Big Government programs force us to raise its taxes. Your archrival just wrote a big check to the Washington Bureaucrats Benevolent Society. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to do the same?
It’s a dismal state of affairs to say the least. We should want these high-tech companies competing in the business marketplace, not the political marketplace.