Madeleine Albright just touched on a point that's been bugging me for a couple of days now. Okay, let's talk about it.
It started with The Email Thing. You know, the dumb mini-flap about the fact that McCain doesn't know how to use email. When that first broke, I stuck it in the back of my mind and asked myself whether it mattered in the slightest. My initial reaction was that it didn't -- but as time has moved on, I've found myself more and more bothered by it.
Let's be clear, the mere fact that McCain doesn't email is irrelevant. Indeed, there are perfectly plausible reasons why he might not: in particular, it's certainly possible that the little-discussed problems with his arms make it impractical for him to use a keyboard. But there's another reason, which is the most plausible and the one that *does* bother me: he never wanted to learn how.
This is often dismissed as, "oh, he's just old, and old people don't do this kind of high tech". To this, I call bullshit. My parents are nearly his age, and don't have this supposed limitation. Heck, my mother was an avowed technophobe for much of her adult life, but is now a total blogophile and I'm going to be installing Skype in her apartment sometime soon. And I'm sorry, but we're not talking about today's cutting-edge obscure technology: we're talking about stuff that has been mainstream for decades, that is mature and generally easy to use. In general, folks who have access to email these days and don't know how are just plain scared to invest the ego in learning.
Now for an ordinary person, that's understandable, and I don't hold it against them. A little fear of the new and different is natural, and we all have our blind spots. But I *do* expect more from a Presidential candidate. In particular, I damned well expect someone who is not only not afraid to learn, but who is downright eager to do so.
And I find myself profoundly suspicious of McCain on this point. The email thing in and of itself is minor, but if it signals a broader trend it's not. And look at what he says and does. His approaches to conflict, in particular, are profoundly rooted in classic 20th-century thinking. He seems to keep reacting as if our current conflicts were still World War II, or the Cold War, missing the fact that the dynamic has changed greatly, requiring considerable subtlety and attention to detail. His style is old-fashioned, and that appeals to many people. I can understand that, and I value the good bits of those old policies. But we have to recognize that not every old-fashioned policy is necessarily good and right today.
This election keeps coming back to Experience, and I won't deny that that matters. But it does not matter as *much* as the ability to learn on the job, in a world that is changing ever-faster. It's clear to me from the past year that Obama is a quick study, constantly learning and refining his thinking. I am not nearly as sanguine that McCain is learning much of anything any more. The only things he seems to have changed boil down to giving in to his handlers and the right wing, pretty much across the board.
Don't take this as me being sure about any of this -- I know the man only through the filter of the media, and that's a hazy lens. But I'm quite nervous about what I'm seeing, in one of the most important characteristics that a President must possess...