In response to an Obama campaign ad that reminded viewers of John McCain's computer illiteracy, bloggers circulated reports that war injuries may prevent the Republican presidential nominee from using a computer keyboard.
On Friday, the Obama campaign's new ad called "Still" criticized McCain for being "out of touch" and reiterated the fact that McCain "doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email..."
McCain supporters like Ed Morrissey of "Hot Air," went after the ad. Morrissey found a Boston Globe article from 2000 that reports that "McCain's severe war injuries prevent him from combing his hair, typing on a keyboard, or tying his shoes."
The text of Obama's ad extended a storyline that has thread through the campaign, where McCain's digital communication failings are seen as a symbol of his being out of touch more generally with the public and unable to lead a country desperately looking to turn the page on the past.
"Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email, still doesn't understand the economy, and favors 200 billion in tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class. After one president who was out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same."
Yahoo opened the topic when it questioned the Republican candidates about whether they used Macs or PCs. McCain's reply: "Neither, I'm a illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance I can get."
Political bloggers had a field day with that. Atrios wrote:
"I think in 2008 computer use and understanding of the internet should be part of the basic skill set we expect from people in positions of prominent public leadership. It's pretty much impossible to have any kind of understanding of how people in the modern world go about their lives and work without that."
Then in June, Internet strategists convened at the Personal Democracy Forum, culminating with a heated debate on stage about whether candidates must be able to use technology to have a real understanding of it.
McCain countered in an interview with the Chronicle late July saying "It's changing the information age, and I've got to stay up with it." Also "I am forcing myself... let me put it this way, I am using the computer more and more every day." He added that his staff was "constantly showing [e-mail] to me as the news breaks during the day." That didn't ilicit much new confidence from techies in McCain's abilities, but it felt like a step.
Whether McCain's physical limitations are part of what is keeping him from using computers remains to be seen, but if so, there are a lot of assistive devices out there for using computers for people who have injuries or disabilities: certain types of mice, voice activation software, special keyboards, keyboard usage training, etc. Still, training to use those kinds of devices can take time - something presidential candidates do not have at their disposal. With less than two months left in the campaign, there's definitely not enough time for a self-proclaimed computer illiterate to get up to snuff.
As Sarah Lai Stirland of Wired News noted, Rahm Emanuel explained in Friday's media conference call about the ad, "There's a whole economic revolution going on that has fundamentally changed the economy and fundamentally changed people's lives, and he's removed from that."