Net deficit

Our view: U.S. president should know how to chat

June 29, 2008

In today's Internet-driven world, Sen. John McCain shouldn't be so quick to admit his online shortcomings. It shows his age, for starters, and is tough to overlook in a prospective president. Mr. McCain should ditch his online surrogates. If the president of China can chat online with millions of constituents and al-Qaida leaders rely on the Internet as their bully pulpit, a guy who wants to be the leader of the free world should be able to traverse the Net as easily as the globe.

The report of Mr. McCain's computer handicap appeared last week on The Huffington Post, which linked to a Yahoo video in which Republican presidential candidates were asked about their computer preferences, PC or Mac. The Arizona senator said, "Neither," explaining that he relies on his wife, Cindy, in this matter. Scandalous? No, but the week before, Chinese President Hu Jintao took part in a 20-minute online chat - a first for a top Chinese leader in a country that boasts a record 221 million Internet users. Mr. Hu answered about three questions - and no, "Boxers or briefs?" wasn't one of them. But his participation underscored the power of the Net in the world's most populous country even when it's bridled by an authoritarian regime.

Now, Mr. McCain wouldn't be the first political figure to admit being befuddled by technology.

Even before the elder George Bush showed such a fascination with the supermarket checkout scanner, there were presidents and presidential candidates who betrayed a certain ignorance of science. For instance, George Washington's failure to embrace the toothbrush, a device that might have spared him considerable denture pain; William Henry Harrison's fatal ignorance of the benefits of wearing an overcoat and hat in the snow during his inaugural speech; and Ronald Reagan's inability to recall the function of a microphone when he joked that the bombing of Russia would begin in five minutes.

All were elected by the American public.

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