I write this the day after the first US presidential debate in which Ross Perot had a grand old time being unpolished and quick on his feet, in which George Bush gained coherency throughout the evening from a thoroughly confusing start, and in which Bill Clinton showed cautious poise during a rhetorically solid performance. "Oh no," you say, "he’s going to talk about politics. Why doesn’t he stick to what he knows?"
Yes, that’s right, I am going to write about politics and the US presidential campaign, a move that I know is risky in a computer trade publication. NeXTWORLD magazine endorsed ex-NeXT board member Ross Perot before his temporary retreat from the campaign trail, and an irate reader quickly censured them for that act in the next issue. However, I feel that the presidential race deserves some coverage from the high tech point of view, and I also feel that I can contribute in a positive manner. But first, let me defend myself from the inevitable questions and attacks.
First, for the many of you who are not US citizens, I realize that this presidential race does not directly concern you. However, a large percentage of the high tech world hails from the US, and since Apple is a US company, things Macintosh must perforce carry a US tint. Any large political change that affects high tech businesses in the US will be felt worldwide. In addition, in many ways the global Internet owes its start to the Defense Department, and although the Defense Department no longer has a controlling hand, the US government still provides a great deal of funding to the Internet. More on the Internet in a bit.
Second, I should address my qualifications for writing this article. I have none, other than my interests, curiosity, and analytical bent. I have no political contacts, have never run for elected office (other than an abortive attempt in high school to establish a Roman consul system), and in general do not approve of politics. Nonetheless, the US political system will not disappear any time soon, so we should make the best of what we’ve got. Everyone should have an opinion (otherwise you’re a vegetable), because that opinion and your vote entitle you to complain when things don’t go as you like.
Third, what will I write about if I’m not an expert? If I were more of a journalist I might contact the various campaign offices and interview them about what hardware and software they use and what their plans are should they win the election. Perhaps I could talk about the tremendous volume of political discussions on the networks. Or I could try to solicit statements from each candidate on various high tech issues, but let’s be real. The art of politicking involves telling everyone what they want to hear, and each candidate would no doubt do just that. No, call me an editorial columnist, call me an essayist, call me an academic, or even call me Ishmael, but I will only say here what I think and what I think I can back up with something that masquerades as fact or truth, when we all know that hen’s teeth, unicorns, and objective fact sit down each night at the same table.
So what do I think? We’ll start with the candidate about whom I know the least in some respects, George Bush. Bush looks to be very much a member of the old guard, and in an attempt to convey the fact that he’s "jes’ folks" has made some vaguely offensive statements about his inability to learn how to use computers. He has expressed amazement at the ubiquitous bar code scanners in supermarket checkout lines, and if he shares anything with my grandfather other than age and participating in World War II as a young man, I suspect that George Bush basically doesn’t understand computers. Based on a report in a computer magazine, Bush now does use a DOS-based 286 for memos and the like, but he apparently never took John Sculley up on the personal Macintosh lessons that Sculley offered months ago at the launch of Bush’s America 2000 education proposal [See TidBITS-060/06-May-91 for the full text of Sculley’s letter to Bush].
Ross Perot intrigues me because of his high tech background as founder of EDS and as a major investor and board member of Steve Jobs’s NeXT. He seems generally popular among computer users in part because of these facts, although I think it’s fair to say that given a choice, Perot runs organizations more like a cross between IBM and the military, as opposed to the more relaxed management style enjoyed by many who work for more liberal companies like Apple and Microsoft, where dress code and rigid hours are unheard of. That, along with Perot’s acknowledged position as a political Lone Ranger worry me because of the difficulty of dealing with entrenched interests as an outsider. Politics is a large and bloody game, and you can’t win without playing, as I learned back in high school while attempting to run for consul.
Finally, we have Bill Clinton and Senator Albert Gore. As I said above, the art of politicking is to promise everything to everyone, and Bill Clinton is the consummate politician. Nonetheless, Clinton has energy and many ideas, and as far as high tech issues go, the Clinton/Gore ticket shows more promise than any other, if only because of Gore’s constant support for high tech issues. Gore is currently chairman of the subcommittee on Science Technology and Space of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and he authored the High Performance Computing Act of 1990, which proposed the creation and funding of high-speed fiber-optic networks. Gore is obviously technologically-minded, and if you wish to learn more about his opinions about technology and computer networks, I recommend that you read his "Infrastructure for the Global Village" article in the Sep-91 issue of Scientific American. Perhaps the most telling paragraph reads in part:
Typically, software development follows hardware development, and policy lags behind both. Yet it is policy that can determine whether we reap the benefits of this new technology. In too many cases, we have mastered the technology but failed to muster the political commitment and the appropriate policies.
In June of this year, Gore also introduced a bill that would establish an electronic gateway in the US Government Printing Office "to provide public access to a wide range of Federal databases containing public information stored electronically." I do not know if Gore’s bill passed during this session of the Congress, but the bill very much fits with our philosophy of freedom of information, particularly when that information belongs to the public in the first place. One interesting aspect of the bill was its specific requirement that the Government Printing Office will "provide for access to the GPO Gateway through a wide range of electronic networks, including the Internet and the National Research and Education Network (NREN), to allow broad, reasonable access to the data."
From a technology viewpoint, we need this sort of understanding. Judging from his article in Scientific American, Gore also understands that in many ways the most important problem facing the world today is lack of communication, and facilitating communication will go a long way to solving many of the world’s other problems. On the common ground of the network, we cannot discern if someone is old or young, male or female, black, white or Asian, a company president or a 15 year-old high school student, fat or thin, or Swedish, French, Turkish, Israeli, or Japanese. We know so little about our correspondents that we generally treat them all with equal respect and courtesy. That is the networks’ gift to humanity.
In a fascinating move, lifelong Republican and Apple CEO John Sculley and 28 other Silicon Valley industry luminaries recently endorsed the Clinton/Gore ticket. Presumably these people feel that a Clinton presidency would bode well for the high tech industry, and although what benefits the industry may not always benefit us lowly consumers, it often does in the end. We share little in common with these millionaires and yet in some strange way we care what they think, since thoughts in those same brains shape the industry in which we live.
Why do we attempt to ferret out the candidates’ true opinions on matters such as high technology? You may disagree with my thoughts about the importance of increasing communication and my feeling that we should pay attention to and learn from an industry that has not suffered to the same level as others during this global economic slowdown. On a more visceral level, though, we want to know that these people are in fact human, that they have some of the same wants, needs, and desires that we do. We want to assure ourselves that they are not significantly different from us, or from our friends. That’s why Bush tries to come across as "jes’ folks" despite his family money, Yale education, fighter pilot experience and long political career, including a stint as CIA director. If you grew up with money, went to Yale around the same time he did, or flew a fighter plane in wartime, you probably have a feeling for what George Bush thinks and feels. (I doubt many of you experienced anything like being CIA director.)
The fact that Perot started and ran a successful high tech company endears him to many in our field, but I personally feel the most affinity for the Clinton/Gore ticket, in part because of Clinton’s youthful musings and, depending on your viewpoint, indiscretions, and in part because of Gore’s obvious feeling for the importance of high-speed networks and high technology in general.
Riza Nur Pacalioglu, an Internet friend in Turkey, recently gave a presentation on user groups to the President of Turkey, and discovered in the process that the President is a Macintosh aficionado with a Quadra 700 with 16" monitor and a PowerBook 170. Riza reported that the President likes WriteNow and Excel, although only on his Quadra’s 16" monitor, and shares my opinion of Microsoft Word. I know essentially nothing about Turkish politics, but in some ways I feel that I know and understand Turkey’s president better than our own, simply because of his opinions on subjects with which I’m familiar and the fact that he apparently uses CompuServe and reads TidBITS at least occasionally. I want to feel the same affinity for our next president so I will perhaps understand better why he acts as he does.
By now you’re probably wondering if I’m going to give the Clinton/Gore ticket the official TidBITS endorsement. I don’t think I’ve got one of those lying around, and frankly, I think a publication’s endorsement is pointless because that publication will automatically support that candidate in its choice and presentation of the news. Instead, I hope this article makes clear some of my hopefully-logical thought processes in a way that will help you, should you be a US citizen, decide for yourself. Whatever you decide, please vote. Don’t forfeit your right to complain for four more years.