As the presidential campaign season chugs along, I've come to realize that the time-honored tradition of candidates kissing babies has been replaced by candidates kissing up to the small business community. Along the way, it seems, somebody realized that babies aren't swing voters, and that makes perfect sense to me. Then again, I write about small business for a living.
Here at Inc., we're often quick to point out that small businesses generate roughly 75 percent of new jobs, as evidence of their sweeping -- and generally underrated -- influence. The Blue Chippers command the headlines in the business section, but the entrepreneur can have just as much impact on the economy.
Last week, I attended the National Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C., organized by the National Federation of Independent Business, and got to see President Bush's play for the small business vote first hand.
Though the three-day summit felt at times like a campaign rally -- with at least one attendee telling me that the president's re-election is the biggest challenge facing her company -- it also provided a window into the issues affecting a cross section of small businesses across the country. Perhaps more than anything else, I heard complaints about a broken and costly health care system, with near-universal support for Health Savings Accounts, and the proposed association health plans -- a piece of legislation snaking its way through Congress that, supporters say, would essentially allow small businesses to band together and purchase more affordable insurance.
As focus shifts to November, both Bush and Kerry are trying to paint themselves as the small business candidate, and their supporters are lapping it up. The small business owners I spoke with last week certainly see Bush as a friend in the White House. Whether their policies reflect a genuine commitment to entrepreneurship is, like everything else in Washington, up for debate.
But regardless of your political stripes, the president made a comment during his speech that I think, deliberately or not, speaks to the influence entrepreneurs can and should have in this election. "The way I see it is," Bush said, "what's good for small business is good for America." It's funny, I always thought what was good for General Motors (read: the aforementioned Big Business) was good for America. Sure, it's largely stump speech boilerplate with no tangible effect. But like I said, I write about small business for a living. And this kind of recognition on the campaign trail -- from both candidates --is, if nothing else, encouraging to see.