Outsourcing: The Candidates Take Sides—or Do They?

Opinion: eWEEK.com columnist Chris Nolan tells why the outsourcing issue is such a tough one for John Kerry.

How tough is the outsourcing issue for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry?

Tough. So tough that Democrats wont talk about it. Calls to the campaign press folks in Washington, D.C., werent returned, and a request to talk to Silicon Valley executives who just endorsed Kerrys candidacy was declined.

Its not that surprising. Earlier in the campaign, Kerry called executives who hired overseas "Benedict Arnolds." Arnold, for you math majors, was the first American traitor. Born in Connecticut, he ended his life in London.

In his speech accepting his partys nomination, Kerry was a lot less specific on the whole issue. Caught between economic and political realities, Kerry picked his way carefully, saying he wanted to create "new incentives to revitalize manufacturing" and would invest in tech to create new, high-paying jobs. A third leg of Kerrys economic plan would close "the tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping our jobs overseas."

Theres not much new there. But here is something different. And it sounds very much like the ideas put together by the partys biggest supporters, the unions, who provide money and armies of campaign volunteers. "We will reward companies that create and keep good-paying jobs where they belong—in the good old U.S.A.," Kerry said. "We value an America that exports products, not jobs—and we believe American workers should never have to subsidize the loss of their own job."

Kerry, of course, didnt use the word "outsourcing," but thats exactly what hes talking about. And it could be trouble with tech in particular, where sending jobs overseas is old hat. "The tech industry has always tried to be global, said venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme, a staunch supporter of President George Bush. When Kvamme helped start National Semiconductor "back in the 60s," tech was an international business. "The first thing we did was go to Europe. The second thing we did was go to Japan," he said. "Once you are a global company, you have to be a global competitor."

By that reasoning Republicans like Kvamme think its counterproductive, if not impossible, to force jobs to stay in the United States. By his figures, some 22 million manufacturing jobs have "left the planet," evaporated by all sort of efficiencies in the way products are made. "Im pretty sure they didnt go to the moon, he joked.

Next Page: Living with outsourcing.