John McCain: Digital Dunderhead Or Internet Whiz-Kid?

Is John McCain an out-of-touch dunderhead who doesn't know the Internet from a series of tubes? Or is he an Internet-savvy septuagenarian who needs someone else to operate the keyboard for him because of his Vietnam war injuries?

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

September 13, 2008

4 Min Read

Is John McCain an out-of-touch dunderhead who doesn't know the Internet from a series of tubes? Or is he an Internet-savvy septuagenarian who needs someone else to operate the keyboard for him because of his Vietnam war injuries?The Obama campaign looked like it scored a coup against McCain this week with a TV ad claiming McCain's computer illiteracy proved he was out of touch and shouldn't be allowed to be president.

But McCain's defenders say their candidate does know how to use a computer and the Internet -- he just needs someone else to operate the keyboard.

What's the truth? Is McCain the kind of guy who thinks the mouse is a foot-pedal and a the DVD drawer is a cupholder? Or does he have l33t skillz?

It depends on who you believe -- and you'll find comments from McCain to support either side of the issue.

The Huffington Post points to a July McCain interview in the New York Times, which quotes the candidate:

I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don't expect to be a great communicator, I don't expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need -- including going to my daughter's blog first, before anything else.

You read it yourself, folks. He is "becoming computer literate." Means he's currently computer illiterate. The man can't use a computer.

Don't believe me? Check out this video, where you can see McCain himself say: "I am an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get."

On the other hand....

Instapundit points to another passage in the same Times interview to prove that McCain is pretty sharp on the Internet, noting that he reads several blogs, including his own daughter's, and he occasionally borrows other people's BlackBerrys. Instapundit also quotes from a 2000 Forbes article:

McCain himself was convinced early on that the Internet had to play a critical role in the campaign. Time and again it allowed him to leverage his money and his organization. "In the Virginia primary," McCain told me, "we needed a lot of petitions signed to get on the ballot. We had the form available to download off the Internet and got 17,000 signatures with very little trouble."

Ultimately, McCain realized he couldn't go the distance, but the message was clear to any political organization with hopes for the future. His Web team had played the Internet like a Stradivari. . . .

In certain ways, McCain was a natural Web candidate. Chairman of the Senate Telecommunications Subcommittee and regarded as the U.S. Senate's savviest technologist, McCain is an inveterate devotee of e-mail. His nightly ritual is to read his e-mail together with his wife, Cindy. The injuries he incurred as a Vietnam POW make it painful for McCain to type. Instead, he dictates responses that his wife types on a laptop. "She's a whiz on the keyboard, and I'm so laborious," McCain admits.

The HuffPo notes that the idea that McCain's war injuries prevent him from using a keyboard seems to boil down to an unattributed, unsubstantiated passage in a 2000 article in the Boston Globe: "McCain's severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes. Friends marvel at McCain's encyclopedic knowledge of sports."

For another perspective, the National Review's Jonah Goldbert thinks the issue is baloney, and is likely to come back to bite Obama:

Lord knows I think the chicken-hawk arguments are stupid. And I don't think the fact that Obama never served in the military should count against him in and of itself. But how stupid is it for the Obama campaign to claim that McCain is unqualified to be president because he can't grasp cyber-security issues based on the fact he has never sent an e-mail when the McCain campaign can just as easily say Obama can't understand first order national security issues because he's never fired a rife, flown a plane, commanded men in battle, or faced an enemy? I mean, which prepares someone to be commander in chief better, hitting "send" on AOL or fighting a war?

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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