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Who Will Be America's First techPresident? Grading the Republicans

BY Editors | Thursday, December 6 2007

Two weeks ago, we looked at the Democratic presidential field and how they measured up on our "Who will be America's First TechPresident?" Now it's the Republicans' turn. But first, a reminder of our criteria. We're looking to where the candidates come down on the following proposals (explained in further detail in our original post):
1. Declare the internet a public good in the same way we think of water, electricity, highways or public education.
2. Commit to providing affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide.
3. Declare a “Net Neutrality” standard forbidding Internet service providers from discriminating among content based on origin, application or type.
4. Instead of “No Child Left Behind,” our goal should be “Every Child Connected.”
5. Commit to building a Connected Democracy where it becomes commonplace for local as well as national government proceedings to be heard by anyone any time and over time.
6. Create a National Tech Corps, because as our country becomes more reliant on 21st century communications to maintain and build our economy we need to protect our communications infrastructure.

As with the Democrats, we've approached this review mainly by looking through the candidates' policy statements on technology, the media, education, transparency and infrastructure. We're primarily interested in seeing what issues they choose to highlight on their websites and in their speeches and press releases, as those are good indicators of their priorities. But if we only relied on those sources, we'd have to flunk every Republican running, as there's notably little on their official sites that touches on most of those topics. So we've hunted elsewhere, and want to give credit to two sites, OnTheIssues and National Journal, for performing yeoman's service in scraping together the crumbs into something of a useful picture. Here's what we've found.

Who knew Rudy Giuliani was such a data nerd? While he touts his "12 Commitments" as the core of his policy program and you can find platform statements on everything from school choice to fiscal discipline to the "Terrorists' War on Us", there's thin pickings when it comes to figuring out his thinking about the role of the internet and technology in America's future--except for his fixation on statistics. Apparently, he does think everything can be handled the way his police commissioner zeroed in on high-crime neighborhoods, with a program called CompStat. Just call him Stat-man. In his autobiography, Leadership, he writes that he tried to "run the city as a business, using business principles to impose accountability on government. Objective, measurable indicators of success allow governments to be accountable, and I relentlessly pursued that idea." Thus, on his website, he proposes creating a "Government-wide Accountability Program ['GAPStat'] based on New York's CompStat program to better evaluate each agency, analyze the effectiveness of Federal programs, and identify those that are wasteful, failing or duplicative." But there's no indication that this tool would allow for citizen input or oversight. Likewise, he proposes the creation of "ReadyStat" to "measure what prevention and response capabilities are needed by American localities" and thus reduce disaster response time. And he calls for a "TerrorStat" to "provide an easily accessible depository for terrorism data, including reports of suspicious activity, precursor crimes and expanded Syndromic Surveillance to identify pandemic and biochemical attacks as soon as possible." He's also calling for a BorderStat, an EnergyStat, ...and of all these wondrous Stats, only when it comes to energy indicators does Giuliani promise to put the data online "so the public can track our progress and hold government accountable." So much for the potential of new technology to involve ordinary citizens in making government work; Giuliani's vision is all about top-down control. Back in 1999, when he was gearing up to run for the Senate, his RudyYes website touted his administration's work putting computers in city classrooms, but the fact is that children in New York City schools had very little meaningful internet access then (and now). His campaign site today makes no mention of net neutrality, the digital divide, a connected democracy, or even a national net guard. We give him a D.

As best as we can tell, John McCain mainly views the internet as a threat to children. That's because we couldn't find any mention of the net, net neutrality, the digital divide, or any other web buzzword on the issue sections of his website or in his speeches, other than in a platform page on "human dignity and the sanctity of life," where he touts his efforts to push legislation requiring "all schools and libraries receiving federal subsidies for Internet connectivity to utilize technology to restrict access to sexually explicit material by children using such computers." On that same page, he pays lip service to the "tremendous promise in terms of freedom of expression, information sharing, and the spread of knowledge and commerce" that the internet offers, but develops that idea nowhere else on his site or his public statements. Yes, McCain calls for "increasing transparency" in government, but only insofar as hidden spending like earmarks affects the budget process, it appears. So while he wants members of Congress who request earmarks to be identified, he is silent about other ways to open up the process. (Compare this to his activism in 1999, when he released a report on the "Ten Most Wanted" government documents online, to goad various agencies into doing more. “It is critical to make as much information as possible available to the public over the Internet," he said then.) He defends his long-standing advocacy for campaign finance reform, but it appears that his thinking on that topic hasn't been affected one iota by the rise of the internet, as he has nothing to say about its role in leveling the playing field or in helping root out political corruption. In his interview with Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, he equivocates about net neutrality, claiming that he doesn't see anti-competitive behavior by big telecom companies. He also told attendees at the Wall Street Journal's D conference that "When you control the pipe you should be able to get profit from your investment." As for protecting our communications infrastructure, he called for a "comprehensive, interoperable emergency communications plan and standards [and] fund[ing] for emergency and interoperable communications equipment" at a firefighters' forum last March. At least he seems aware of the problem. We're giving him a C+.

Give Mitt Romney some credit: his website's issue section puts "technology" in its own category. Alas, it's for a two paragraph statement voicing support for "substantial" government investments in "technologies related to power generation, nanotechnology, and materials science." (Who knew Romney was such a fan of government investing in anything?) However, there's no mention of information technology investments, whatsoever. And that's it for what you can glean from his website. Nor did we learn anything about Romney's views of net neutrality or the digital divide from his interview with Michael Arrington, as they ran out of time before engaging those issues. Does he get transparency, at least? A spokesman told National Journal's Technology Daily that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney "consistently used technology and innovation to make government more transparent and accessible," for example, ending the practice of printing the budget and instead putting it online. In his book Turnaround, he describes how the Salt Lake Olympics Committee that he ran adopted an open documents policy in response to the Olympics bid scandal. He writes: "It is fair to say that SLOC was the most transparent organizing committee in Olympic history--perhaps among the most publicly accessible organizations in America. The public were in attendance at every Board meeting. We built a reading room at our own expense where the public could come to examine core documents. For all intents and purposes, we were naked." But would he do the same for the federal government? Impossible to say, because he hasn't addressed it. Our friends at PrezVid also spotted a YouTube video where he declares that he wants to "make sure every new computer sold in this country has a filter to block all pornography." Sigh. We'd flunk him, but at least he's in favor of investing in emerging technologies. D+

Looking for technology policy from Fred Thompson is kind of looking for the submarine Red October in the North Atlantic. You know there must be something there, given how much (and astutely) the former Senator has talked about using the Internet to assist his campaign. But it's buried deep...really deep. For example, on his "On the Issues" page, under "Government Effectiveness," Thompson says he is committed to "Ensuring information technology systems are secure and that they give our government the capacity and effectiveness to get the job done." This emphasis is rooted, no doubt, in his having been the lead sponsor of a data security infrastructure for the federal government, which among other things requires annual security audits by government agencies and requires regular reports of their results to the public, as Wired reported. We'll give him points for knowing something about cyber-security, then. But for the most part, Thompson comes up wanting. Under "Education," he embraces "Encouraging students and teachers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math—fields that are crucial to our security, competitiveness, and prosperity." His education "white paper," which is more like a cover sheet than a paper, doesn't offer any further detail on how he would achieve that goal. As for government transparency, Thompson is oddly silent, even though he led a major investigation into corrupt campaign finance practices in the 1996 election. For having done a podcast in June that talked about Phil de Vellis's Hillary 1984 mashup and the power of online video, we'll give Thompson points for paying some attention to what the net can offer (Click here and scroll down to "Democratizing the Campaign Trail" to hear it). But the lack of any consideration of broadband competitiveness or net neutrality, let alone getting kids online or protecting our communications infrastructure earns him a D+.

Scan the list of issues on Mike Huckabee's website and at first, it looks as disinterested as most of his Republican colleagues in the importance of technology and the internet to America's future. But then, at the tail end of the list is something called "vertical politics" (by which he means neither left nor right but up and forward). Here you'll discover something that suggests, perhaps, that Huckabee recognizes the web can power a new kind of engagement between voters and politicians about the issues of the day. Vertical Day was a gimmick his campaign came up with to rally interest online, but its intensive use of blogging, webcasts and videoblogging all in one day was indicative of Huckabee's somewhat more innovative use of the web overall in his campaign. That said, it's pretty hard to know where Huckabee will go with technology policy as he has nothing at all to say about it on his website. As Governor of Arkansas, he did create a website for info on state grant programs, and he claims to have "done more in technology to make our state accessible online and to do more electronic services than any other state in the country," but that hardly suggests that he has a vision for using technology to improve federal government. He's has somewhat sympathetic things to say about the need for net neutrality, both in his response to the number one question on and on a blogger conference call. But even though a governor might be expected to understand more the importance of broadband to economic development, he's silent about that issue, as well as the importance of closing the digital divide. We're giving him a C, and we're being generous.

Ron Paul may be the internet candidate of 2008, but when it comes to technology policy, his libertarian ideology leaves a great deal wanting. In 2006 he voted against net neutrality legislation, arguing that it represented government regulation of the internet. A spokesman told National Journal that he didn't think the federal government had a role in promoting national broadband, saying it should be left to the market. We guess he thinks the government's investment in the interstate highway system was also interference in the market. On the other hand, at the Iowa Straw Poll debate last August, he was quick to pledge his support for greater government transparency, though without any mention of the internet's role. However, it doesn't look any of these positions are priorities for his campaign, judging by their absences from the detailed issues section of his website. (Yes, Paulites, we perused his past writings too.) He says all kinds of good things about the net, though, like "we should never interfere with the Internet" and his campaign has walked Paul's transparency talk by publishing the most detailed and up-to-date information about its own campaign contributors that anyone has ever done in a national race. Again grading generously, we'll give him a C.

Tom Tancredo voted against net neutrality. He sponsored a bill in 2003 to eviscerate the FCC's e-rate program, which gives schools and libraries discounted rates from telecom and internet service providers. In other words, he'd like the digital divide to get worse. His top priority is border security but he has nothing to say about our vulnerable communications infrastructure. Same with the issue of America's declining broadband competitiveness. We're flunking him. F.

Duncan Hunter has an in-depth issues section on his website, but the only mentions of the Internet come in a brief discussion of protecting children from obscene materials and in a short statement of opposition to online gambling. He voted against net neutrality. And he's silent on everything from government transparency to broadband competitiveness. Another F.