Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani recently fumbled answering one of the dumbest questions asked since "boxers or briefs?"
Campaigning in Alabama, he was asked, "What is the price of a gallon of milk?" He was off by a buck or two, thus failing a tiresome common-citizen test.
But far more important questions need to be posed. Let's start with asking our future leaders about how affordable PCs, broadband Internet connectivity, and other information technologies are transforming the lives of every American.
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The standard for poli-technical cluelessness was set last year by Sen. Ted Stevens (R–Alaska). In a speech opposing Net neutrality, he infamously said, "The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes."
Now, our senators don't need to be regular Slashdot contributors. Net neutrality is a fairly complex issue, and, as metaphors go, there are worse comparisons than a "series of tubes."
Still, Sen. Stevens was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which controls telecom regulation.
He's regulating an industry he simply doesn't understand. We have to demand better.
In 2008, Vote Viral Video!
Today's campaign managers know how to use technology to get their candidates elected. For example, no candidate's campaign is complete without a MySpace page, YouTube channel and a Web site that accepts donations.
A few campaigns are even trying to ride the Web 2.0 bandwagon to Washington. John Edwards was in on the ground floor with Twitter, beaming riveting campaign updates ("Looking forward to our first 'Small Change for Big Change' event at San Jose State University tonight at 5 p.m.") to 3,000 online friends.
Technologically savvy campaigns are one thing, but we also need candidates who themselves have a basic understanding of how this stuff works. We need to elect the first tech president.
The Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) is leading the charge with a six-point technical agenda it is hoping the presidential candidates will support.
If a candidate disagrees with part of it, I want to know why.
Declare the Internet a public good. This means treating Internet access the same way we do water, electricity, highways and public education. The government would have an obligation to enable low-cost universal access.
Commit to providing affordable high-speed wireless Internet access nationwide. Protect and expand unlicensed spectrum for public use. The PDF suggests spending $20 billion on an Internet Innovation and Investment Fund that would guarantee and spur development of a wireless broadband blanket and make sure the Net reaches every segment of the population.
Declare a Net neutrality standard. This would prevent ISPs from discriminating among content based on origin, application or type. And with no tiered service pricing, big corporations couldn't buy their way into the fast lane, leaving smaller firms and individuals behind.
Make "Every Child Connected" our goal. If major corporations are able to increase the productivity of their workers by equipping them with PCs, cell phones and Internet connections, we owe it to our children to offer the same infrastructure in schools.
Commit to building a connected democracy. Local and national government proceedings should be broadcast on the Internet so anyone can hear them anytime.
Create a National Tech Corps. This group would respond to emergencies by reestablishing communications, networks and databases, and providing tech support for relief and recovery efforts.
There is more than a fair amount of idealism in these six requirements. Efforts to wire our schools have been under way for years. And $20 billion to build a public wireless broadband network seems like a pipe dream (Tube dream?).
Still, the candidates' views on these issues are more important to our nation's future than the price of milk.
Here at PC Magazine, we want to do our part to educate our future leaders about the 21st century. Therefore, our circulation department has added each candidate to our comp subscriber list.
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