Editorial: Presidential transformers

Is there a connection between being smart about technology and being a good leader?

We have been pondering this question ever since the blogosphere went haywire over a July 19 New York Times interview with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. In that interview, he acknowledged that he had not mastered the Internet and that he relied on trusted aides, such as his wife and senior advisers, to get him online to read newspapers, political Web sites and blogs.

This was not news. During the New Hampshire primary, McCain had said he wasn’t a techie.
But we were still wonder: Does that matter?

Earlier this month, the Information Technology Association of America issued its assessment of the presidential candidates’ technology agendas. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the ITAA analysis essentially declared a tie. While Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has been innovative in using the Internet and Web 2.0 in his campaign, ITAA gave McCain high marks for his free-trade policies.

Of course, ITAA wasn’t asking the same question we are. Yet like the ITAA, we remain conflicted. Neither candidate, for example, has made U.S. global competitiveness a significant part of his platform, and we continue to believe that is a critically important issue.

It is important to note that we are not making a presidential selection. Federal Computer Week has never endorsed a candidate. We do, however, believe that technology presents the government with enormous opportunities. If anything, we are frustrated with both candidates. There has been much made of the country’s eagerness for change, but the campaigns so far have been remarkably traditional.

We are excited about the possibilities when we see how the Obama campaign has used Web 2.0 tools. And we do worry that it may be difficult for McCain to understand the potential that technology offers without some firsthand experience.

At the same time, we aren’t convinced that one must be tech-savvy to be a real leader. We have faith that the next president will choose advisers who know how to use the Internet, and we hope those people will share some of our optimism about how technology can help government accomplish its missions more effectively.

We often hear that government IT leaders should not be technologists but rather business leaders who understand the power of technology. So we hope that there will be opportunities for the government’s IT leadership to present the opportunities to a new administration.

Meanwhile, we are happy to offer McCain some lessons on getting online.

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