“John McCain Is Aware of the Internet.”


Published: October 30, 2008

At a recent forum on technology and democracy, a McCain staffer fielded assertions that his candidate was out of touch with technology and the Internet, and was therefore unfit to govern in the 21st Century. Senator John McCain has admitted many times that he is essentially computer illiterate, relying on either his wife or his staff to handle his online communications and find information for him on the Internet. When pressed on this at the forum, McCain’s staffer argued that the senator did not need to use a computer to understand how online technologies shape our world.

“John McCain is aware of the Internet,” the staffer said, with some exasperation, trying to convince his fellow panelists that just this acknowledgment was enough.

Pardon my forcefulness, but screw that. Having experience and judgment doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t understand how people are living right now. McCain has for years chosen not to learn basic computer skills—skills that are increasingly critical to the livelihoods of his constituents in Arizona and the citizens he wishes to govern as president. This seems naïve, and arrogant. More and more jobs deal directly with managing Web sites and publishing online, and those jobs that don’t deal with online publishing directly rely heavily on the Internet for organization and communication. McDonald’s requires that you apply for even the most basic jobs online. Homeless shelters are now setting up computer labs so that their residents can apply for jobs, unemployment assistance and welfare. In 2008, you can’t even be homeless without knowing to use computers.

The Internet helps facilitate so much of our lives that I don’t think we can ever go back; it greases all the wheels and gets into our brains. When someone hands me something on paper, I get a little flustered. I need information in an e-mail or a Word file or on a Web page, or I almost don’t know what to do with it. I don’t think I am alone in these changing patterns of thinking. If McCain doesn’t use the Internet himself, how can he understand how I think or how I live? We are a whole generation whose native culture is the Internet. How can he understand us?

For whatever it is worth, I endorse Senator Barack Obama for president. Obama is intelligent enough to give complex issues like race the considered treatment they deserve, and he was wise enough to see the strategic pitfalls of invading Iraq before the fact. He has been tough enough to survive one of the most bitterly contested primary seasons in history, and he is charismatic enough to inspire millions in America and abroad to demand better from themselves and their government.

There are dozens of compelling reasons to vote for Obama, but this issue of technology stands out more sharply than the rest. Obama understands and can navigate the technologies and innovations that are revolutionizing our jobs and our economies, our governments and our hobbies. He chooses to surround himself with people who are equally impressed by the importance of these revolutions. No other political campaign has so adeptly used the power of the Internet to organize and reach out to people. To make sense of the Internet, you have to use it, participate in it, be a part of it. Obama has done this. McCain has not.

Six months ago, I wrote that this election was primarily about how we wanted to move on from the Bush era. But there is more to it than that. As many commentators on both sides have pointed out, this campaign has had underlying themes of old verses young, established verses fresh, experienced verses exciting. But there is more to it even than that. With the election only days away, it is time for us to decide what sort of person we want to lead us into the 21st Century. Do we want someone who embraces the technologies that most of us use every day, or do we want someone who is merely aware of them?

As many compelling reasons as there are to vote for Obama, I think there may be even more reasons to vote against McCain. McCain is out of touch and not just with the Internet. With every passing week it seems more and more clear to me that McCain, for all his years of service to his country, is past his prime. The wars he entered government to fight are either long over or never happened. The world that he knew best, that honed his experience and judgment—the world of the 20th Century—that world is quickly fading into the distance. So on Nov. 4 vote for the 21st Century. Vote for Barack Obama.