retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Go figure. Uber just became a potential political weapon.

Uber, for the uninitiated, is a car-sharing service that seeks to supplant much of the traditional taxi industry in many big markets. It has been the subject of numerous protests from the traditional taxi business, which sees it as a unfair competitive threat because it has avoided the licensing and regulatory costs that they have to absorb.

Now, Politico reports, the Republican Party is hoping that it can translate the affection that young urban voters feel for services like Uber into affection for GOP candidates.

"Republicans see it as the perfect opportunity to help sell the GOP’s free-market, lower-regulation message to a younger generation of voters they’ve struggled to win over in the past few elections and who often feel alienated by the GOP’s social conservatism," Politico writes. "On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee pounced, launching a petition to support Uber saying 'taxi unions and liberal government bureaucrats are setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business in their cities'."

Democrats, the story says, tend to have taken a bifurcated approach to Uber and its brethren - they've supported its development, but have said that they need to adhere to the same rules as everyone else.

I have no idea if this will work, but it is an interesting approach. At some level, this reflects the broader strategic decision by some in the GOP to position the party as more populist, and characterize the Democrats as being beholden to big business. I'm frankly a little cynical about the whole exercise - the one thing that seems utterly clear to me is that both political parties have been corrupted by big money … I make voting choices based on the positions taken by candidates, regardless of party, but never kid myself that these options cannot be swayed by a big check.

Trying to appropriate Uber as a political symbol may be effective, but I'm not sure it is the kind of issue that will move voters from one political party to another. There are a lot of other issues that are far more consequential …

However, I do think that there is a broader lesson to which both politicians and businesses should pay attention. It is far better to engage with people and companies that are trying to change the game and challenge the rules than it is to side with the status quo. Otherwise, you find yourself hoping that you'll get backed by the buggy whip industry…

The limits of which will be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: