N.G.A. Keynotes Get Political

Feb 16, 2004
Al McClain

By Al McClain

In adjacent keynote addresses at the recent National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas, former Vice President Al Gore and former congressman J. C. Watts had some interesting
ideas about politics and the economy.

Both men believe U.S. politics has become too partisan and we need to look for common ground in order to solve the country’s problems.

Watts believes that Republicans have been poor communicators and need to talk to people in the way they want to be talked to…and listen to hear, instead of just to

Gore worried about both the budget and trade deficits. He fears that the largest creditors, especially in Asia, may eventually see too much risk in investing here and reduce
their holdings. He noted that 95% of current population growth is in developing countries, making it easy for technology related jobs to be exported to countries with lower
labor costs, and said that the only way to stay ahead of this issue is larger investment in education and acquisition of new skills.

The speakers agreed that there is plenty wrong in our country today, including a Social Security system that will be bankrupt in the 2030’s, and a political system too weak to
deal with the problem.

Watts looks for new models of governing to help repair large social and economic problems, supporting the idea of more competition in health care and education, believing for
example that schools would get better if everyone had a choice of schools, public or private. He also believes in further tax cuts, because they put more money back in people’s
pockets, and because he feels they are like Novocain — give them time, and they work. He’s big on improving efficiency in government, feeling that we could reduce the cost
of the federal government 10-15% and improve service at the same time. His primary prescription for making government more efficient seems to be holding government
workers accountable for their actions, and providing incentives to do the right things.

Gore said that the decision to invade Iraq was “the worst single foreign policy mistake he has seen in his lifetime” and that there are many cruel dictators in the world — if
we looked hard enough we could find justification to invade a lot of places, but that doesn’t make it wise. He also said there was ZERO connection between 9-11 and Iraq,
and that the public should have been told more about that lack of connection before the war.

Watts said we had no choice but to go in, and that the biggest weapon of mass destruction had been removed — Saddam Hussein. He also said we need to hear more about the
positive things going on in Iraq now, such as 64,000 teachers being trained, commerce thriving, schools opening, power coming on, etc. He also believes that sanctions
and containment don’t work, and that that system allowed North Korea and Libya to build nuclear weapons.

Moderator’s Comment: What’s your take on the state of our government, and how it will affect the retailing climate in
the coming years?

Both men can give a compelling speech, and think on their feet, proving perhaps that they are well suited to politics. Domestically, the takeaway
was government needs to be more accountable and efficient. That sounds great, but neither man was optimistic anything like that would really happen. They blame it
on a poisoned dialogue. I’d add to that a never ending roster of special interest groups, and a government that has become so large it is virtually unmanageable.

McClain – Moderator

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