Obama and McCain on Technology and Government: Where They Stand

A primer for public CIOs on the candidates' positions on IT.

by / August 4, 2008

Iraq. The economy. Education. For months we have heard Barack Obama and John McCain discuss these topics as they prepare for the 2008 presidential election. Technology, while perhaps not the most controversial matter in the election, is another critical topic that the nominees have discussed and debated. Both Obama and McCain acknowledge the significance of technology in the 21st century, and its possibilities for various, high-profile issues such as medicine, education and defense. However, beyond a basic agreement of its importance, the candidates differ greatly in their views on, and plans to utilize, technology.

John McCain

  • Although his campaign site lacks a specific page on technology, he does state on his site that he wants to ban Internet taxes, which he believes "threaten this engine of economic growth and prosperity." He also supports a permanent tax ban on cell phones and other electronic devices.
  • The Arizona Republican believes that market forces rather than government intervention should be used to expand high-speed Internet access. In response to a CNETnews.com questionnaire, McCain explained that "We should place the federal government in the role of stimulator, rather than regulator, of broadband services."
  • McCain plans to develop a comprehensive emergency communications system for local, state and federal safety officials. At the International Association of Fire Fighters Presidential Forum, the senator discussed the need to provide officials with unused radio spectrum to enhance communication during a disaster.
  • During a speech at the National Sheriff's Association, McCain emphasized the need for more investment in cyber-security in order to "protect our energy supply, air and rail transport, banking and financial services." The senator wants all public safety officials to have access to a shared repository of information, and wants to improve technologies for tracking felons and gathering data.
  • In terms of health care, McCain states that he will increase the use of information technology to reduce costs. As his campaign site describes, "We should promote the rapid deployment of 21st-century information systems and technology that allows doctors to practice across state lines."

John McCain on technology:
"John McCain believes we must make a farsighted, robust and fervent commitment to innovation and new technologies to sustain our global competitiveness, meet our national security challenges, achieve less costly and more effective health care, reduce dangerous dependence on foreign sources of oil and raise the quality of education in the United States."

Barack Obama

  • On his campaign site, Obama explains the need to protect the openness of the Internet. A strong proponent of network neutrality, the senator states that "network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some Web sites and Internet applications over others."
  • Obama strongly encourages diversity in media ownership. He wants to encourage more minority-owned broadband media and an increased coverage of local issues in order to present the American people with a wide range of topics and opinions.
  • The senator believes technology can be used to help solve a vast array of the nation's problems, including lowering health-care

  • costs (through investing in electronic information), improving the education system, developing climate-friendly energy and creating new jobs.
  • Obama wants to create an open, transparent government through the use of the newest technologies. On his Web site, he emphasizes the need to make government data available online, and promotes the use of blogs, wikis and other social networking tools to keep the public informed and involved.
  • In July, Obama declared his plan to create the position of national cyber-security adviser. In a summit at Purdue University, the senator explained that he and the national cyber-adviser would "coordinate efforts across the federal government, implement a truly national cyber-security policy and tighten standards to secure information." Obama also proposed to appoint the first chief technology officer for the federal government, a position that would "ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century."

Barack Obama on technology:
"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

Two Different Approaches
What do these facts mean for the future of technology during the next presidency? Both candidates are clearly aware of the importance of technology in the 21st century; it plays a part in nearly every other presidential issue, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to taxes and health care.

However, McCain tends to view technology from a business perspective, encouraging the use of market forces to stimulate broadband access and aid in other technology issues, while Obama more often promotes government legislation that uses technology to address a number of the nation's issues.

Their personal experiences with technology vary as well. McCain, who once jokingly claimed to be computer "illiterate," has cited his favorite gadget as his RAZR phone, while Obama is rarely seen without his BlackBerry at his side.

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