I was asked to sit on a panel of social networking experts and companies yesterday afternoon in Silicon Valley and talk to some folks about social media and the new digital divide. Many of these folks in the audience were the people who will be helping to decide the future of internet access and infrastructure for California. What came up inevitably during our discussion is how very far the U.S, has fallen behind other countries such as Japan and what government can & should do about it. Another topic was how important access to the internet and to new social networking technologies is for education. Our nation’s youth can’t compete here or abroad without this access and too many teachers aren’t receiving the training and resources they need to help them.

On the long drive home, I listened to John McCain’s speech on the radio. I wondered if he would address the concerns about his own modernity and technological prowess given, well his age and the fact that he’s on record as not using a computer, let alone teh internets (unlike around 70% of Americans). It was one of the most disjointed, difficult-to-follow speeches I’ve ever heard. It made me worry a bit about the clarity of his thinking. My guess is that he had notes and talking points but not a full speech. On NPR, they said he was more comfortable with paper than teleprompters. Oof…

The speech was over-long — I can imagine that many people shut off their tvs or radios before getting to one of the strongest parts toward the end which was his lessons learned from his POW experience and some of his specific ideas for programs. The speech was much more generous to Barack Obama than all of the speeches the day earlier with a nod (finally) to the historic nature of his presidency candidacy (sorry freudian slip). There was no sarcasm or ridicule there. Nothing I can easily point to as racist or inflammatory. Sure there were some inaccuracies on Obama’s actual positions but there were far fewer outright lies than Palin’s speech. That said a lot to me about John McCain. On some level, McCain has got to feel like he’s somehow standing in the way of something pretty major happening in America. His speech even imitated the structure of Obama’s which was sort of poignant in a way since McCain clearly can’t compete as an orator with his own running mate, let alone Obama — one of the greatest. From the text of the speech:

And, finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We’ll go at it — we’ll go at it over the next two months — you know that’s the nature of this business — and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and my admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that’s an association that means more to me than any other.

(APPLAUSE)

We’re dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. No country — no country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn’t be an American worthy of the name if I didn’t honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement.

There was a surprising willingness to criticize the Bush-Cheney administration without naming names. That struck me — finally some admission from someone that something’s gone wrong, horribly wrong and that something might be possibly be named Dick Cheney who was flown far, far away to a country most Americans have never heard of during the convention. He referenced “both parties” to soften the blows a bit but it was clear at least to me who the target was.

when we tell you we’re going to change Washington and stop leaving our country’s problems for some unluckier generation to fix, you can count on it.

[...]

I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and they had to be held accountable.

I’ve fought the big spenders…

Yet, the Republicans in the hall didn’t want to hear about that. Not really. They also really didn’t want to talk about the fact that America’s going through a tough time right now and tried literally to stop McCain from talking about it, shouting USA, USA over him during this striking passage early on (emphasis mine):

And after we’ve won, we’re going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.

(APPLAUSE)

I know these are tough times for many of you. You’re worried about…

(Aggressive chanting of USA, USA)

Please, please, please. My friends, my dear friends, please. Please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.

(More and louder “USA, USA”)

You know, I’m going to talk about it some more. But Americans want us to stop yelling at each other, OK?

“Back on the road to prosperity and peace”. Wow — that’s a damning comment. Who took us off that road, exactly? Could it be the GOP? For the USA chanters, the status quo appears to be just fine. Is seeming out of touch a big problem for the Republicans? I think so.

There wasn’t much substance to McCain’s speech — his allusions to climate change were winking & disingenuous at best. Offering up the old failed “solution” of vouchers as a remedy to our school’s ills is pathetic at best compared to Barack Obama’s proposal of more and better paid teachers, for example.

As for healthcare? Nothing new there except that it sounds like many Americans will still be able to “choose” not to have it.

All in all, I’d say McCain has a challenge — he’s been upstaged by Palin who, despite her triumph Wed, remains a shaky, vulnerable and uncertain quantity that may yet completely explode in his face. This campaign’s in trouble. If there’s a bounce for McCain, I’m guessing it will be because of Palin and not this speech.

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