We remember the contentious run-up to the 2004 general election like it was yesterday. But with the candidates on 2008 focusing on how to deal with a real war rather than a war about offshoring of a few thousand jobs, the stakes are much different.
It was in the CNN studios in New York City in early December 2003 that I started to understand how wacky the November 2004 election was going to be. Loudmouthed anchorman Lou Dobbs sat across from me, asking questions. Tape rolled. When the tape stopped, I left the building. Then they edited the tape to make me look like a job-offshoring madman. Then, at airtime, the producers had Lou toss questions live to my taped answers, so the illusion was complete.
Me: dope. Lou: great white hope. And the show’s ratings soared.
And so it continued for 11 months. Guys behind the scenes pulling strings to make the rest of us think our voices and votes actually counted. Then the election happened.
The heroes of 2004 were Lou Dobbs and his producers, and Karl Rove and his operatives in Ohio and Florida. HRO Today was a minor player. But we were part of the scene. We caused undecided voters to sway to the right, thinking that the Republican team would do a better job of protecting the country and protecting jobs from being sent to India.
But what turned out was quite a bit different. So here in 2007, we are locked in a seemingly endless trillion-dollar-per-year war in Iraq and plentiful offshore HRO and FAO services are helping the economy stay afloat.
So we now turn into the nearly two-year run-up to the November, 2008 elections with two clear realities facing us. First, the Iraq war will be issue No. 1. It will certainly go into the next president’s term. And our kids will be paying for it for decades to come. Second, with unemployment hovering around four percent, outsourcing will be nowhere among the top 10 most important issues in the coming campaign.
On the Democratic side, neither John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama is likely to bring outsourcing into the foreground. Edwards has some strong backing from labor unions. But the unions’ main hot-button is more likely to be healthcare than offshoring. After all, offshoring is nothing that politics can stop. It’s a market force bigger than any single election. Healthcare, on the other hand, is a national issue. Canada, France, the U.K., Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, they’ve all figured it out. And the politician that can slay the American healthcare dragon will go down in history as greater than Lincoln and Kennedy combined.
On the Republican side, neither Rudy Giuliani or John McCain are likely to make outsourcing an issue of note. Rudy is going to run on his strengths: security and strong leadership. And McCain will run on his international expertise and conservative pedigree. Neither will need to go deep on workforce issues. Just amass a giant war chest of cash, work the get-out-the-vote machines that worked so well in the red states and swing states, and help the leading Democrat stumble down the stretch.
So what about Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews and Anderson Cooper? What about the boys and girls at Fox News, CNBC, and the networks? Will they thrust the “o word” back into the limelight like they did in 2003 and 2004? Will it be as big a ratings boost for Dobbs as it was in ’03? Not likely. In TV, no issue lasts that long. Lou will have to find another horse to ride to more ratings riches.
HRO has seen its heyday in the national media spotlight. As a result, 2007 and 2008 will be years of substance rather than of noise. There will be billions in new contracts. HR will continue to be systematically restructured by the HRO mega-trend. But there will be fewer hysterics and very little hyperbole. More steak, less sizzle. For us as a media business, HRO continues to grow, especially as an online media phenomenon. It may not be as noisy as 2004, but it will continue to grow into one great market of buyers and sellers.