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What's John McCain's Technology Policy?

Surprise—he doesn't have one. And how does that compare to Barack Obama?

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 3:00 AM EDT

Several passages mentioning technology (and using plenty of capitalization) are obtuse:

  • "John McCain Will Streamline The Process For Deploying New Technologies And Requiring More Accountability From Government Programs To Meet Commercialization Goals And Deadlines."
  • "John McCain Will Ensure Rapid Technology Introduction, Quickly Shifting Research From The Laboratory To The Marketplace."

But McCain's site is most elaborate when it refers to the danger the Internet poses to America's children, noting that 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." It also reports that "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."

Though McCain echoes Obama's call for greater government transparency, his website says little about how technology and the Internet can further that cause. There is no mention of increasing access to broadband. When asked about this in a ZDNet News questionnaire, McCain adopted a classically conservative approach, saying government policies should "promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher-quality services for consumers."

His website also lacks a statement on net neutrality. When prompted, though, he has seemed to come out against it, saying, "When you control the pipe you should be able to get profit from your investment," suggesting a philosophical opposition to neutrality. He has also made a dismissive reference to net neutrality as an attempt to "micromanage American business and innovation."

The McCain campaign did not return an emailed request for comment.

Reich, the former editor of Campaign Web Review, isn't willing to dismiss McCain's thin tech stance out of hand. "Most policy development is done by advisers and staff, so just because he doesn't have a technology policy that is clearly articulated doesn't mean I'm going to give up on the prospect of John McCain being a supporter of future innovation," he says. "But he does have various gaps to fill in."

McCain's problem is that Obama has raised the bar. "All the people I know in the technology space are backing Barack Obama and not John McCain," says Reich. That provides McCain with little incentive to do better. "John McCain probably has thoughts and feelings on technology," Reich adds. "But he 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."

Michael Cornfield, author of Politics Moves Online: Campaigning and the Internet and a founder of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, describes McCain's approach to technology as "tangential." In a charitable interpretation of McCain's lack of an information technology platform, Cornfield points out that it mirrors the "classic Republican approach to the economy: laissez-faire, except where family values come into play. McCain doesn't post any plans for technological development because the best plan from this perspective is, 'Stay out of R&D's way.'"

There is, of course, a less kind alternative. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the blog techPresident and the Personal Democracy Forum, says, "McCain's interest in tech policy is about as robust as the Horse Traders Association's interest was in steam engines."

Art by flickr user p373 used under a Creative Commons license.

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