Several months ago, in the heat of the republican primary, Yahoo news asked the candidates: Mac or PC? McCain’s response was revealing… and disturbing.
Neither. I am an illiterate who has to reply on my wife for all of the assistance I can get.
Now come some even more impressive quotes in an interview with the New York Times.
He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.
“They go on for me,” he said. “I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”
Mr. McCain said he did not use a BlackBerry, though he regularly reads messages on those of his aides. “I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail,” Mr. McCain said.
I know the internets are confusing and all, but I’m frankly a bit baffled by this. He needs help “getting on”??? To read newspapers? Hard to imagine that there’s not a computer he could use somewhere, already attached to the internet, and probably even with the browser already installed. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have to learn how to set his DNS servers in order to read the New York Times. Is it typing the URL that’s difficult? My grandmother, by the way, who is more than a decade older than McCain, seems to have figured this out just fine, even without a campaign staff to help.
The level of cluelessness here is deep — not only does he admit that he’s completely illiterate, he demonstrates a basic lack of familiarity with the terminology (he also mentioned that his staff shows him Drudge, because “Everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge.”), much like his colleague Senator Ted “series of tubes” Stevens, opposer of net neutrality.
And it’s important. At the risk of stating the obvious: Internet policy has direct relevance for our most fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, privacy, and democratic access to information. Computing is increasingly critical to our increased understanding of the Universe, financial markets, and disease. The internet and social networking tools are rapidly revolutionizing the way we interact with each other, citizen’s access to and engagement in government, and government accountability. These things are central not only to innovation and the global economy, but to 21st century democracy in America and the world. It’s really hard to see how you can fully appreciate these issues if you don’t know the most basic things about operating a computer. Leadership matters.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has a twitter account. (He also hired one of the Facebook founders to start his myBarackObama site, which has clearly been responsible for a good deal of his internet fundraising and organizing.) He gets it.