Before I write about Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s technology roadmaps if elected to the presidency, I first need to vent about the fuss surrounding McCain admitting he’s computer illiterate.
The latest spin includes Newsweek’s Andrew Romano who suggests McCain’s computer illiteracy reflects a lack of necessity in his congressional role. Whereas most adult Americans learned computers on the job (looking up information on the Internet, sending e-mails, etc.), McCain relies on staffers for that work.
“Internet ability is completely pointless from a policy perspective,” Romano writes. “It’s inaccurate to say that his computer inexperience would hamper his presidency,” no different than his inexperience on farming and immigration issues.
That’s all and well, but did not Mike Allen of politico.com interview the 71-year-old senior Senator from Arizona last weekend and learn the man is not illiterate anymore?
Moreover, we know from On the Issues that he spoke at a March 2000 Republican debate in Los Angeles, saying, “When I want to find out what’s on CNN or The New York Times or other communist periodicals, I always go to it.”
End of vent.
Let’s talk presidential politics, policy, and technology.
As background, I point you to an earlier post of mine on the internet’s interminable link to elections and a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey that found 46% of Americans use the internet to follow political news, contribute to campaigns, watch debate videos, and other areas surrounding the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
Of the 2,251 polled:
- 40% read political news and views online
- 19% participate in campaign activities online more than once a week
- 6% go online daily
- 23% receive emails to support a campaign or discuss an issue once a week or more
- 10% use email to contribute to a political debate once a week or more
- 4% exchange political views by text messaging
“Many voters are now using the internet to move past traditional media gatekeepers to gain their own view of the candidates and the campaign,” said Pew research specialist Aaron Smith. “This shows the appetite of engaged citizens to move beyond the sound-bite culture and make their own assessments of the meaning of political developments.”
If elected, Barack Obama promises to create a transparent and connected democracy through a website and search engine, blogs, wikis, social networking tools, and other internet resources “to modernize internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making,” adding that citizens would be able “to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts with government officials.”
(Some of this is already possible, such as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transaction Act portal, spawned by a bill he (and McCain) co-sponsored in 2006.)
Obama pledges to make “government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities.”
Other elements of an Obama Administration, as indicated on his website, include:
- Requiring Cabinet officials to hold sporadic “national online town hall meetings.”
- Requiring agencies to conduct “significant business” in public “so that any citizen can watch a live feed on the Internet as the agencies debate and deliberate the issues that affect American society.”
- Enabling citizens “an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days” before he signs any non-emergency legislation.
- Appointing a first-ever White House Chief Technology Officer to focus on transparency, open and accessible e-government records, and new technological tools.
The Pew study indicates 65% of Obama supporters already use the internet to watch online videos, participate in social networking sites, and other campaign-related activities. By comparison, only 56% of McCain supporters use the internet in a similar fashion.
And of McCain’s technology roadmap?
He doesn’t have one.
There’s nothing on his website, anyway. According to Mother Jones, there are references to configure a “rapid deployment of 21st century information systems and technology” albeit for “doctors to practice across state lines.”
MJ talks to media strategist Brian Reich who says McCain “doesn’t see it as an electoral priority to talk about the role technology is going to play in our society going forward, because he’s not going to raise any money from Silicon Valley liberals. I think it’s both a policy deficiency in his platform and a political deficiency in his strategy.”
There you have it. Obama is reaching out to the American electorate, most of whom are internet junkies, and is attempting to bridge the digital divide by improving existing technologies and creating new tools, such as the CTO appointee.
McCain is fairly mum about his ideas.
Echoing what I wrote at the beginning of this post, I don’t care if a presidential candidate is illiterate about computers anymore than he may be illiterate about farming (as Romano wrote); that’s why he has Cabinet officials and the best and brightest staff.
Net neutrality and REAL ID aside, what are McCain’s prospective policies on the very issues that Obama suggests? How will McCain expand broadband access to rural Americana? How does McCain feel about telecommunication innovations and sending NASA missions to Mars?
How will another Republican administration be different in this age of technology?
Don’t get me wrong; Obama has his faults, too.
But, as Baby Boomers retire and Generations X and Y will take their place (not to mention the so-called Google Generation who are already tapped into technology more than any other social or demographic class), who will speak to the younger-than-45 voters? Obama seems to be more attuned
This has nothing to do with Silicon Valley liberals, as Reich wrote above, but sociocultural values.
In any case, for more information, I point you to CNet’s 2008 Technology Voters’ Guide.
As an aside, I suppose we can be thankful Georgiana Doerschuck is not running for the presidency. Do you remember her? She ran in the 1996 Republican primary in New Hampshire on an anti-computer platform, shown in this interview with Wolf Blitzer.