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Who Would Make The Best Technology President?

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I recently heard a man remark on a New York radio station that when it comes to this year’s presidential candidates, “There’s not a dime of difference between them.”

My immediate reaction was that this gentleman obviously hasn’t been paying attention, but when I looked quickly at the candidates’ positions on technology issues, I began to think the radio guy might have a point.

Certainly Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have substantive differences on a host of issues, but when it comes to technology, it sounds like the same person could have written both of their platforms.

Nevertheless, a closer review of the candidates’ technology positions as expressed on their Web sites did reveal a clear–and surprising–winner. Let’s look at the issues:

Net Neutrality. Both candidates say they want the Internet to remain a free and open medium, but Sen. Obama favors “net neutrality,” while Sen. McCain does not. According to Cnet News, network operators want to charge Internet content providers for enhanced IP services, while Net neutrality proponents say regulations are needed to prevent abuse by the Net’s gatekeepers. Network companies certainly have a right to make money, but, by the same token, abuse needs to be prevented. This is a tough issue to which neither side has an ideal solution.


Internet Access. Sen. McCain believes that Americans at all income levels should have access to high-speed Internet services. Sen. Obama agrees. The difference is that Sen. Obama would use federal government funds (our taxes) to pay for needed improvements, while Sen. McCain would seek to encourage private investment, as well as local government participation. In a fiscally sensitive time, it makes more sense to pursue the latter course.


R&D Tax Credit. Both candidates want to make the current federal research and development tax credit permanent to spur technology innovation. Sen. McCain further proposes to leave the capital gains tax where it is to further encourage such efforts. Sen. Obama has stated his intention to raise the capital gains tax. Bad move.


Energy Exploration. Sen. McCain wants the U.S. to expand domestic oil exploration and expand the use of domestic natural gas supplies to cut energy prices. Sen. Obama proposes to enact a windfall profits tax on energy profits that would provide a $1,000 rebate to American families. He also wants to tap into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to cut prices.

The windfall tax, however, is likely to be passed right back to consumers in higher energy prices, quickly eating into that $1,000 government gift. Tapping into the petroleum reserve means that, well, we have less petroleum in reserve–not a good idea in a very dangerous world.


Updating Government Technology. Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain both want to use technology to improve government communication inside the enterprise and outside (to taxpayers). Sen. Obama further advocates the creation of a federal chief technology officer position to give more direction and accountability to these efforts. That seems sensible.


Alternate Energy Sources. Both candidates want to tap into alternate energy options to help reduce our dependence on oil. Sen. Obama says he will spend $150 billion to help build a “clean energy future.” Sen. McCain favors tax credits and government-funded incentives. Probably neither plan will be completely practical in a recession.

Both also advocate further use of clean coal technologies, but Sen. McCain takes the extra step of pushing for construction of nuclear power plants–a definite plus for him.


Climate Change. Both candidates have besotted themselves on the global warming Kool-Aid and are ready to commit many billions of dollars to a “greening” effort that will make America the leader in fighting climate change. Can climate change actually be fought? The scientific jury on that is still out, but the candidates are already committed.


The Bottom Line. To my great shock, it seems that Sen. McCain is the clear winner here. Yes, I know the guy can’t even use a computer himself, but his tech policies just make more sense overall–especially in a recessionary economy. In a more economically robust time, Sen. Obama’s ideas might have held sway, but it looks like–at this point in history–we can only afford so much change.


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