"John McCain, Internet Dunce," boldly proclaimed the headline of a piece by Amanda Terkel at Salon.com on Wednesday. Terkel's article examines McCain's befuddlement with the newfangled Internet. She offers up some glistening jewels of McCain's net-ignorance, such as this quote from the good Senator, "I'm an illiterate who has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance that I can get," and then an admission that he, "never felt the particular need to e-mail." The gist of Terkel's article is that McCain now has to defend himself against charges that he lacks the fundamental understanding of rapidly evolving technologies and the implications that such ignorance might have in a 21st-Century President, both in terms of national security and domestic policy regarding telecommunications and digital business issues.
However, Terkel noted that, in McCain's defense Mark Soohoo, McCain's deputy e-campaign director, recently remarked that, "You don't necessarily have to use a computer to understand how it shapes the country ... John McCain is aware of the Internet." Fair enough. I don't need to know how to turn iron ore into a car in order to drive that car. Certainly, a theoretical President McCain would be surrounded by staff and advisors whose technical knowledge would be more than ample to both perform their duties and lend McCain technological advice. Of course, this would put McCain in a position in which his knowledge of the 'net would be largely second-hand, but why would that be important in this day and age?
In a nutshell, many McCain supporters argue that technological experience isn't that important. A brief perusal of the first few pages of the comments on Terkel's piece both confirm this and raise a distressing, but perhaps not surprising (among "conservatives") attitude; specifically that many McCain supporters don't want a (pick one) geek, nerd, or egg-head in the White House. That is to say that they would rather have someone who is technologically ignorant and they would be proud of that ignorance.
Oddly, the argument that it wouldn't really be important for a President McCain to have much in the way of technological experience or understanding is about 180 degrees from the argument, common among Republicans, that Barack Obama is unqualified for the Presidency because he has no direct military experience. Like the technologically challenged McCain, a President Obama would have a number of foreign policy and military experts on hand. To counter Soohoo's quip above, I'll offer that one doesn't necessarily have to be a brilliant military tactician to understand how the military defends the country. Some people get wrapped up in the mythic imagery of a Commander-in-Chief, as if the President might at some point gallantly lead loyal soldiers in a charge of enemy lines when, in fact, any President would be carefully kept far from any real danger; recall how Resident Bush went into hiding in the aftermath of 9/11 until the threats abated.
Of course, I'm still waiting for someone to tell me specifically what McCain did in the military that uniquely qualifies him for the Presidency. Regarding individuals such as retired Generals Colin Powell or Wesley Clark, a clear case can be made that their military service would have demanded that they have proven abilities to analyze information, make tough decisions, and lead. As honorable, and harrowing, as McCain's military service was, I don't see how spending years as a prisoner of war or wrecking a few airplanes provides one with a skill set that qualifies one for the Presidency.
No President can be an expert on everything. To declare that Obama is unfit for the Presidency because his life didn't include a specific set of experiences while defending McCain's ignorance of important issues is nothing short of hypocrisy, at the very least.