Technology has taken a back seat to other issues in the presidential campaign. Early on, Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) viewed technology as a significant issue with an important bearing on the nation's future. But it's been eclipsed by events as the country has fallen on hard times and issues such as the economy, health care and energy have taken on more importance for voters. The issue hardly surfaced in the three presidential debates. One of the few times it did come up during the campaign was in an Obama ad that poked fun at McCain's efforts to learn how to use the PC and email. "I wonder how much the statements from either candidate are still operable," said Yale Braunstein, a professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley. Technology plays to Obama's strength. He grew up knowing and enjoying the value of tech. He reportedly carries two cell phones and a RIM ( RIMM) BlackBerry and can easily dabble in tech with the heads of industry, as he showed with senior executives of Google ( GOOG) on a visit to Silicon Valley. Obama also understood the power of the Internet when he used it to amass a record-shattering war chest for his campaign. Braunstein said McCain may not as a "heavy user of the Internet" and "skilled in taking advantage of social networking" as Obama but he and his staff have done a good job of keeping up with telecom and broadcast cable TV policy. McCain's campaign Web site also touts the senator's leadership in developing technology policy as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Of the two technology position papers that were developed early on in the campaign, Obama's comes across as much more comprehensive and thought out. For the most part, McCain's technology platform relies heavily on a variety of financial incentives to help businesses get a technological edge in a global economy. By contrast, Obama's platform elaborately discusses an increased role for the government in cultivating and using technology. Obama supports the idea of making government more transparent with the creation of a post of chief technology officer to help federal agencies get up to speed on employing the latest technological tools and practices. He also wants to spend $150 billion over the next 10 years to tackle energy and environmental problems. Among other things, the funds would be directed to help develop biofuels and plug-in hybrids as well as bolster research and development efforts for clean air projects. He also wants to invest $10 billion a year over five years to get the U.S. health care system to adopt electronic health information systems.
Whether Obama can deliver on these and other campaign promises has been called into question by the staggering cost of the federal rescue of the financial sector. Both he and McCain were pressed during the presidential debates on how they would carry out their agendas without running the federal budget deficit higher. For his part, McCain sees a far more limited role for government in tech. He says he wants to bring people to Washington that have "adequate experience and understanding of science and technology." And he talks briefly about the need to put more government services online and having the government enter into partnerships with the private sector to solve problems. Unlike Obama's plan, McCain's plan relies heavily on tax policies to help the private sector. For instance, he would encourage technological innovation by keeping capital gains taxes low, making the research and tax credit permanent and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25%. He said he would also take steps to protect intellectual property and build a skilled work force by pushing up the number of H1B visas. Both candidates agree on the importance of the Internet and the need for increased access to high-speed Internet services. However, the two differ sharply on the government's role in the growth of the Internet. Obama adamantly supports net neutrality and opposes the move by network providers to control the delivery of content and use of applications. McCain argues the government has no business in engaging in what he called unnecessary regulating. Rather, he says the government should direct its efforts toward protecting consumers against fraudulent marketing practices and keeping harmful content away from children. Both candidates agree more needs to be done to improve education in mathematics and science. Obama says the government needs to recruit more math and science teachers and take steps to increase the number of science and engineering graduates. McCain, on the other hand, says he would fully fund the America Competes Act to tackle the needs in education and training.