Commander In Chief, Not Commander Of Clicks

Promoted by Patrick.

I live and breathe the Internet and computers. Part of my job at Eyeblast TV is to convince conservatives that the Internet is the present and future marketplace for ideas in this information age. For more than two years, I wrote a blog about the impact of political blogs -- you can't get much more invested in all things online than that.

But the notion that the next president can't lead this country without knowing his way around a computer --  being spread by geeks on the left who will find any excuse to attack John McCain -- is ridiculous. The leader of the free world doesn't do diplomacy via e-mail or IM; he doesn't blog executive orders; and he doesn't negotiate with lawmakers in bytes and pixels.

It's true that the next president needs to understand computers and the Internet if he wants to communicate effectively in the modern world -- just as FDR understood and mastered radio and Ronald Reagan understood and mastered television. But it's not a prerequisite for doing the actual work of the presidency. Maybe some day but not now.

The next president's most important role -- every president's most important role -- will be to serve as commander-in-chief. It's far more important that he actually know something about the military than about the mouse on his desk.

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Yes, But...

Fair point Danny, but as Garrett Graff has argued, "As a nation, we wouldn't tolerate such ignorance about any other area of policymaking."

Graff continues: "Answering a campaign-trail question earlier this year, Mitt Romney, the former entrepreneur whose high-tech background should make him the best-informed candidate, didn't seem to know the difference between the video-sharing Web site YouTube (then the fourth most popular site in the world, according to Alexa.com) and MySpace, the social networking site (then ranked sixth). What if John Edwards had shown that he didn't know the difference between Indonesia, the fourth most populous country, and Pakistan, the sixth most populous? Or the difference between Chevron, No. 4 on the Fortune 500 list, and No. 6 General Electric?"

This is why questions about technological literacy, while not as important as nuclear proliferation, still merit attention (and why I asked John McCain if he knew the difference between MySpace and YouTube).

The Romney YouTube myth

I was the editor of National Journal's Technology Daily at the time Romney made his so-called YouTube gaffe. The man obviously knew the difference between YouTube and Facebook because months before, he had responded to conservative complaints about his past support for abortion rights by posting a taped interview/video response to YouTube.

That was another case of geeks blowing a minor verbal gaffe into supposed ignorance of all things technology. Conservatives do bring those kinds of "stories" on themselves by being relatively backward, and too often even fearful, of technology (unless its military technology). But the left and its allies in the liberal media blow these things way out of proportion. We don't need to be helping them.

I agree with Jonathan

Part of the problem with Danny's analysis, I think, is that he's thinking of the internet only as a communications tool.  But it is way, way more than that, and understanding it at at least a rudimentary level is pretty important to understanding what 21st century commerce, science, and even the military will be like -- especially in an age of asymmetric warfare.  It seems to me that, considering this entirely in the abstract, we really might prefer a commander-in-chief who has a deep understanding of modern information technology over one who has a deep understanding about tanks and jets.   (Which is not to say that we have any reason to think that Obama has anything like a deep understanding of the former.)

I could not agree more. . .

. . .with you.  A couple of years ago, I was convinced that there was no way that a man could be elected president without a coherent cyber security (for lack of a better term) plan.  The amount of money that is stripped from the economy due to both government and private enterprise back-filling holes in internet security was obscene then.  I'm sure it's not the least bit better now, and would bet the farm (or someone else's) that it's even worse.

I think there's an opportunity here for the GOP to make cyber security an issue, at least in the near future, if not now.  It would demonstrate a degree of modernity, and I think there's an overall sense among the voting public that conservatives are deeply lacking in that area.

A lot of other arguments...

The Internet is a major driver of the US economy.  Jobs being added, directly and indirectly, due to expansion of telecom services and broadband are a large percentage of net new jobs added in the last 7 years.  That's a major piece of the US economy directly tied to the Internet.

Yet your argument is it's just a communcations tool, so he doesn't have to get it.

If your understanding of manufacturing was so fundametally flawed that you didn't know the difference between auto manufacturers and appliance manufacturers, that would be a problem.  Yet we are willing to write off ignorance of a vast section of the economy and the players that operate in that space as a quirk of age or of "not using the product."

There is no way his political advisors would allow him to go out there and talk about Maytag and Ford in the same sentence if he didn't fudamentally understand the difference between the two.  For that matter, they wouldn't let him confuse ABC, NBC and CBS (other communications vehicles).  But forgiving his ignorance of major players in the Internet space is ok?

To Walt's point, there is also a huge national security implication to protecting our technology infrastructure.  That speaks directly to McCain's main selling point. 

Republicans are also huge proponents of tough-on-crime candidates.  Well, crime, in the form of identity theft, phishing, etc, is a considerable problem.  More and more crime is moving online from distribution of kiddie porn to the coordination of terrorist activities.  His ability to understanding the Internet is important unless you want a President whose eyes glaze over when getting an assessment from the FBI about cyber-crimes and efforts to crack down on those activities.

Understanding the internet is not simply understanding how the Internet can be used to disseminate a campaign message.  It's about understanding that the Internet is becoming the undercurrent for our lives.

Tech-informed vs. tech-savvy

You and others make good points about cyber security, cyber crime, etc. I'm not arguing that the next president can be ignorant of such topics. But the nutroots aren't saying only that the next president needs to be informed about technology policy issues; they are arguing that he has to know how to use a specific technology before he can lead the country. That's wrong and, frankly, a bit narcissistic, coming as it does from geeks.

It's true that McCain's political advisers would be foolish if they let him talk about any sector of the economy if he didn't understand the nuances of that sector and the economy as whole, and McCain is weak in that area because he has admitted his lack of knowledge about the economy. But there's a difference between talking intelligently about technology and knowing how to use it personally.

The advisers you mention are the key. McCain needs to hire smart tech people, and he needs to be as committed to learning about how technology is changing the military, the economy and even the culture. From what I've seen, he's pretty solid on that front.

Plus as a long-time member and former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain has a strong track record on tech policy issues. We did an exhaustive series at Tech Daily last year. Even though the publication no longer exists, the series is still online at NationalJournal.com and publicly available.

Here's McCain's tech profile, and here's the one for Obama. McCain isn't the tech ignoramus the left wants America to believe just because he self-depracatingly jokes that he doesn't know how to use a computer.
 

Commerce Committee Chair

McCain was chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Internet and FCC.   Then again, so was Ted Stevens, and he brought us the now infamous "Series of Tubes".

At the very least

McCain's admitted inability to use the basic tool of Americans under the age of forty plays into an opposing campaign theme of his being too old to lead into the future.

It will be interesting to see whether this issue hurts him among younger voters. 

If it does end up being used against him, it's hard to imagine a defense for this personal limitation, since it is a modern skill, like driving a car, that is usually taken for granted.

Internet vs foreign policy

Interesting. People are blasting McCain for saying he computer illiterate. In fact, it may be just good politics since older people vote.  However, I think those complaining about McCain should have a bigger problem with Obama who thinks there are 57 states and keeps making foreign policy gaffs.