By Lisa Mascaro
Tribune Washington Bureau.
The so-called sharing economy is fast emerging as a 2016 presidential battleground, exposing fundamentally different approaches over how to embrace new technologies without hurting American workers.
Eager to court millennial voters and deep-pocketed tech executives, Republicans have almost universally praised smartphone apps that allow consumers to hire drivers, rent apartments and buy or sell just about any service online, latching onto them as prime examples of free-market entrepreneurship and workplace deregulation.
But in what is shaping up to be the first Uber election, Democrats have been more cautious, struggling to avoid appearing resistant to the popular new ventures while highlighting their potential negative impact on workers’ pay and benefits.
Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton sparked the Uber debate last week by pointing to the risks such new business models pose for workers.
“This ‘on demand’ or so-called gig economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation,” Clinton said, “but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
Top Republican opponents pounced on her skepticism, portraying her as out of touch. Within days, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made a public show of ordering up an Uber car to deliver him to a tech firm in San Francisco.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose 2015 book “American Dreams” included a chapter called “Making America Safe for Uber,” focused on the generational divide, saying Clinton was “trapped in the past, and cannot understand how the world is changing.”
Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican senator from Kentucky, wrote dismissively on Twitter that voters shouldn’t listen to a candidate who’s been driven in a limousine for the last 30 years.
Clinton risks alienating Americans who are increasingly enamored with the convenience and efficiency of the “gig” economy, or aligning herself too closely with labor-backed liberals, such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is fighting Uber’s push into his city.