McCain and Obama on Technology

BlogHer Original Post

John McCain admits he is a not a techno-geek and barely knows how to use the Internet. Barak Obama is seen with fingers flying on his BlackBerry when he travels and has raised millions of dollars using the Internet. The technology gap between the two men has raised a considerable amount of discussion of late. How important is what the candidates say about technology? How important is the role of technology in the plans, platforms, proposals and agendas that the two campaign about? How important is it that the President is technologically savvy?

John McCain's website does not have a section specifically for technology issues. Technology is referred to in McCain's statements on other issues such as energy and business. You can interpret and draw conclusions about technology based on what he says about other topics. Barak Obama's website has a section for technology where he spells how his positions precisely.

I had a hard time trying to put together a side by side comparison on technology issues for this post, because McCain's position is harder to find. Take a look at Barak Obama's website for his positions, and I'll try to help you through some other resources about McCain's positions.

First, let's take a look at some general ideas about technology's role in life and politics.

Pew Internet and American Life Project has published a number of reports and studies that show that Internet usage continues to penetrate every aspect of American Life. In 2006, a Pew study showed that about 133 million adults are Internet users. Should our President be one of them? Does tech-savviness make a difference as to who should get your vote? Does it even matter that one candidate is a self-described Neanderthal in terms of technology?

Technology does play more and more into how campaigns are conducted. Both McCain and Obama have large websites. McCain doesn't "get it" himself, but he obviously hires people who do. Is that enough? Or is it more important that he is plainly out of touch with technology?

Candidates for other offices are using the Internet more than ever. A recent study by The Bivins Group documented how the candidates for Senate are using technology. The report, The Use of the Internet by 2008 Senate Campaigns found, among other things, that

- Incumbents are using the web more aggressively than they have in past cycles.
- There is no real difference in the way Republicans and Democrats are using their campaign websites.
- Many candidates are advertising their presences on third-party social networks on their campaign websites.

An issue that BlogHers have followed for some time is that of Net Neutrality. The FCC recently made news by voting to punish Comcast and uphold an open Internet. What are the candidates opinions on this issue?

Obama's site says,

Protect the Openness of the Internet: A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.

I couldn't find anything about it on McCain's site using the search feature. In January, he did answer a question about it for CNET news where he said,

In general, I believe that we need to move to a different model for enforcing competition on the Internet. Its focus should be on policing clearly anticompetitive behavior and consumer predation. In such a dynamic and innovative setting, it is not desirable for regulators to be required to anticipate market developments, intervene in the market, and try to micromanage American business and innovation.

In the same CNET interview, McCain commented on the need for increased broadband access, saying,

I have been a leading advocate in the Senate for seeking market-based solutions to increasing broadband penetration. We should place the federal government in the role of stimulator, rather than regulator, of broadband services, remove state and local barriers to broadband deployment, and facilitate deployment of broadband services to rural and underserved communities.

On the Obama website, Obama comments about the same issue, saying,

Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Full broadband penetration can enrich democratic discourse, enhance competition, provide economic growth, and bring significant consumer benefits. Moreover, improving our infrastructure will foster competitive markets for Internet access and services that ride on that infrastructure.

Regarding diverstity in media ownership, Obama's site says,

. . . he will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.

I searched McCain's site for "media ownership" and "media ownership diversity" but could find nothing on either topic.

Regarding first amendment rights to freedom of speech vs. children's safety on the Internet, Obama's site said,

1. An Obama administration will encourage the creation of Public Media 2.0., the next generation of public media that will create the Sesame Street of the Digital Age and other video and interactive programming that educates and informs.
2. Obama will work to give parents the tools to prevent reception of programming that they find offensive on television and on digital media.
3. Obama will encourage industry not to show inappropriate adult-oriented commercial advertising during children’s programming.
4. On the Internet, Obama will require that parents have the option of receiving parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable Internet content but also prevents children from revealing personal information through their home computer.
5. To further protect children online, Obama supports tough penalties, increased enforcement resources and forensic tools for law enforcement, and collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector to identify and prosecute people who abuse the Internet to try to exploit children.

In a section of McCain's website devoted to Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life, it says,

John McCain has been a leader in pushing legislation through Congress that requires all schools and libraries receiving federal subsidies for Internet connectivity to utilize technology to restrict access to sexually explicit material by children using such computers. While the first line of defense for children will always be strong and involved parents, when they send their child to school or drop their child off at the library, parents have the right to feel safe that someone is going to be looking out for their children.

. . .John McCain has taken a hard line against pedophiles that would use the Internet to prey upon children by proposing the first-of-its-kind national online registry for persons who have been convicted of sex crimes against children. Senator McCain's legislation requires that sex offenders register all online accounts in a national database that can be used by law enforcement to investigate crimes against children. If these predators fail to register they would be sent to prison for ten years. The legislation also makes use of the Internet an "aggravating factor" in sex crimes against children, adding an additional ten years to any conviction. It is the responsibility of government to do all that can be done to protect children from predators who lurk on the Internet.

In a discussion of the right to privacy, Obama's site says,

As president, Barack Obama will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy. . . . Obama supports updating surveillance laws and ensuring that law enforcement investigations and intelligence-gathering relating to U.S. citizens are done only under the rule of law.

On McCain's site, it said,

He will ensure that the war against terrorists is fought intelligently, with patience and resolve, using all instruments of national power. Moreover, he will lead this fight with the understanding that to impinge on the rights of our own citizens or restrict the freedoms for which our nation stands would be to give terrorists the victory they seek.

Obama's site talks about opening up government to make it more transparent. Some of Obama's points:

Technology-enabled citizen participation has already produced ideas driving Obama’s campaign and its vision for how technology can help connect government to its citizens and engage citizens in a democracy. Barack Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and promote citizen participation in government decision-making.

Obama's site lists 5 specific technological proposals to open up the government to citizen input and increased transparency.

I couldn't find any information on this issue on the McCain site. He does talk about government reform, but not in connection with technology.

Obama talks about appointing the first ever Chief Technology Officer who would work on networks and intrastructure. McCain does not mention this idea. The idea that the government needs a Chief Technology Officer seems to speak to the vulnerbility of our networks and infrastructure, an aspect of national security.

Obama ties technology to his proposed changes for infrastructure, health care, climate-friendly energy development, and job creation. McCain has a section on climate change, in which he mentions technology with regard to cap and trade systems, market controls, and the development of advanced technology. In the section of McCain's site about Cheap and Clean Energy he supports nuclear, coal, market support for renewables, and expanded oil and gas production.

Obama mentions immigration reform in connection with technology. The Obama site says,

Barack Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes improvement in our visa programs, including our legal permanent resident visa programs and temporary programs including the H-1B program, to attract some of the world’s most talented people to America. We should allow immigrants who earn their degrees in the U.S. to stay, work, and become Americans over time. And we should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers. Obama will work to ensure immigrant workers are less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers.

McCain's site outlines a lengthy immigration and border control policy that mentions technology in these ways:

Implementing sound policies for contracting Department of Homeland Security software and infrastructure. . . . Establish a user-friendly system employing a limited set of secure documents that contain biometric data and are electronically verifiable to check a worker’s identity. . . . Reform caps for H-1B visa program to rise and fall in response to market conditions. Reduce bureaucracy and waiting times for workers to arrive in the United States.

If you took a look at Obama's technology issues page at the beginning of this story, you'll find several more technology issues on his agenda that I'm not able to match up with similar concerns on McCain's part. His perspective on technology is more far-reaching than McCain's.

The bottom line is that Obama knows more about technology, has more plans to incorporate technological solutions into the programs and initiatives he pledges to support, and uses technology himself more effectively than John McCain. John McCain has people who assist him with this part of modern life. Will the candidate's tech savvy quotient make a difference when you vote in November?

More resources that may help you sort out the technology positions of both candidates.
- BlogHer Guide to Political Bloggers
- BlogHer's exclusive interview with Barack Obama
- McCain answered questions in an interview with TechCrunch where he spoke about China, H-1B Visas, Net Neutrality, Internet Taxes, and Identity Theft.
- Technology Voter's Guide from CNET charts answers given during the primary season.
- What's John McCain's Technology Policy? at Mother Jones.
- John McCain on Technology at On the Issues
- Barak Obama on Technology at On the Issues

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