Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 16, 2008

A MAN AND HIS BLACKBERRY.... It's impossible to say whether the McCain campaign crediting John McCain with having created the BlackBerry will ever have the kind of impact the bogus Gore-invented-the-Internet story had. It seems exceedingly unlikely -- the Gore nonsense is still the subject of jokes, and McCain's media treatment is far more favorable than Gore's.

The Republican campaign, not surprisingly, is doing its level best to dismiss the story, with an aide saying McCain "laughed" when he heard the comment. "He would not claim to be the inventor of anything, much less the BlackBerry. This was obviously a boneheaded joke by a staffer," the aide said.

The truth is, I really doubt Douglas Holtz-Eakin was kidding; he's just not the type to joke like this. It's more likely that he was trying to make a point about McCain's background in commerce, telecommunications, and technology. And if so, it offers us a chance to look a little closer at that record to see how McCain stacks up.

ThinkProgress ... spoke with Blair Levin, who is currently Managing Director at Stifel Nicolaus and served as Hundt's chief of staff at the FCC. Levin pointed out that McCain actually voted against the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA '93) that "authorized the spectrum auctions that created the competitive wireless market that gave rise to companies like Research in Motion [the creator of BlackBerry]."

Indeed, McCain's work on these issues was pretty awful: "When McCain took over his second tenure of Senate Commerce Committee, the United States ranked fourth in broadband penetration. In 2007, two years after he had given up that position, the United States had dropped to 15th in the world."

McCain was also one of only five senators to vote against the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The Obama campaign, now solidly on message, told reporters, "If John McCain hadn't said that 'the fundamentals of our economy are strong' on the day of one of our nation's worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week."

But stepping back, Holtz-Eakin's argument is, on its face, unusually absurd. He was responding to a question about the crisis on Wall Street, and McCain's background as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Pressed to explain the relevance of McCain's experience, Holtz-Eakin pointed to McCain having "created" the BlackBerry.

The underlying point, of course, is that McCain created the regulatory environment that made innovations like this possible. But that's foolish -- BlackBerry was developed in Canada, this has nothing to do with the collapse of investment banks and insurance companies, and McCain didn't do anything to promote innovation anyway.

The whole pitch is ridiculous, on more levels than one.

Steve Benen 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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But stepping back, Holtz-Eakin's argument is, on its face, unusually absurd. He was responding to a question about the crisis on Wall Street, and McCain's background as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. . . The underlying point, of course, is that McCain created the regulatory environment . . . The whole pitch is ridiculous, on more levels than one.

Perhaps most ridiculous is the affirmative effort to tie McCain's time on Commerce as creating an environment. If he had any sense or shame, he'd want to run far away from that connection. His committee created an environment, alright: an environment of radical deregulation from which grows E Coli Conservatism and the family foreclosure/financial meltdown crisis.

Now there's something for McCain to be proud of!

Posted by: zeitgeist on September 16, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Millions of conservatives will enthusiastically come to the conclusion McCain DID invent the Blackberry. What other choice do they have in the face of so many disputing it?

Posted by: steve duncan on September 16, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

The question of the statement being a joke is immaterial to the fact that it was uttered strictly to avoid answering a direct question. In other words this idiocy id supposed to distract one from the fact that he couldn't think of one real way that this experience demonstrated some economic chops.

Posted by: jhm on September 16, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Also worth noting is that it has been the lack of regulations, oversight, or funding on the patent process that led to the Blackberry service being put at risk due to the absurd patent infringement lawsuit over the past several years. The complete absurdity of the current patent process with regards to software and internet-and-wireless-based hardware is also what a focus on deregulation will buy you.

Posted by: msmackle on September 16, 2008 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

This election has brought out the absolute worst in this country. To some McCain and Palin can do no wrong even though the evidence says otherwise. This country, founded over 200 years ago only afforded black Americans the right to vote when Obama was 4 years old (1965) That is paramount in understanding what this campaign is faced with.

Posted by: Roschelle on September 16, 2008 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Holtz-Eakin's comment does deserve some credit for efficiency. That's a lot of lies packed into a short statement. And it takes multiple paragraphs to refute it. Those multiple paragraphs probably won't sink in. But some of the lies will. Pretty sneaky, Doug.

Posted by: fostert on September 16, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

I like how they demoted Holtz-Eakin to a 'staffer.'

The guy's a freakin' Senior Advisor.

The spin never, ever stops with this crew.

Posted by: Stranger on September 16, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

For me, the real nut in that quote is the claim the US has been a prime innovator in telecommunicatons in the last 15 years. What a crock!

Posted by: danno on September 16, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

devilstower has a fantastic evisceration of McCain's technology record at Daily Kos:
here's a bit of it:

Let's go back and see how McCain's hand guided that development.

With the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Senate passed the first major revision to telecommunications law in 62 years which provided the foundation for much of the cell phone and Internet regulation over the next decade. The bill passed 81-18 and was signed into law by President Clinton. McCain voted against the act.

In 2002, McCain authored the "Consumer Broadband Deregulation Act of 2002" which eliminated the requirement of the 1996 law that telecommunication companies provide access to competitors. It didn't pass.

In 2003, the Internet Tax Freedom Act was passed, putting in place a moratorium on taxes for activities on the Intenet. The bill had 11 cosponsors – McCain wasn't one of them. He did vote for the bill, but since it passed 97-3, that's definitely "guiding" with a small 'g.' Granted, this wasn't directly a bill about wireless, but since McCain doesn't seem to have authored any law on wireless technology, I'm having to search for connections.

Posted by: along on September 16, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think zeitgeist hits on a good point that can be expanded: Mccain's aide is trying to give him credit for the Blackberry simply because he was on the commerce comittee at the time. But if we're going that way, we can't pick and choose. If he wants to take credit for inventions just for being there at the time, then people should ask him: By that logic, does your time on the commerce comittee make you responsible for the current problems in the economy?

Posted by: Jurgan on September 16, 2008 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

It's also worth noting that McCain's record of attendance at Commerce Committee and subcommittee hearings is atrocious. He hasn't made it to a single hearing in 2008, as I discovered when investigating McCain's record of absenteeism in the Senate. Here's a link to a post that links back to a July report I did on how little Senate work McCain has been doing while running for president:


Posted by: smintheus on September 16, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

The claim is an error. McCain invented the Raspberry (fzzssst!!!) -- he's mean enough, and old enough!

Posted by: bdbd on September 16, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

The underlying point, of course, is that

If any conservatives had said this in 2000, we wouldn't still be hearing about how Al Gore invented the Internet.

Posted by: neil on September 16, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I think bdbd is right, McCaintcount invented the raspberry. Now he can blow a raspberry without using his lips.

(Sorry if I stepped on your joke, bdbd)

The Blackberry is what McCain uses to get his marching orders from the telecoms.

That's Just What I Said

Posted by: Dale on September 16, 2008 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

The funny/scary part of this is that McCain, by his own admission, is clueless about the Internet.

In this day and age, can we really afford to have a president who is that ignorant about technology?

Posted by: mfw13 on September 16, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was an awful bill, a huge giveaway to fat cats--and it included the unconstitutional Communications Decency Act, to boot.

Maybe McCain voted against it for some really terrible reason; I wouldn't know. I do know it galls me to see liberals holding up his vote on that bill as proof that he's incompetent. Voting against the Telecom Act is one of the few things he's done that I actually like.

Posted by: Evan on September 16, 2008 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

Too bad it appears that there is no video of this exchange. If there were, I think it would be readily apparently that Holtz-Eakin was earnest in his assertion. At least, until the laughter started.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 16, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Not only that, but all those pics of McCain using a Blackberry undercut the computer-illiteracy excuse that he's too damaged to use a keyboard, etc.

Posted by: Neil B on September 16, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

Evan is exactly right. That vote is one of the few things I can respect in McCain's record.

Posted by: Ty Lookwell on September 16, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Not only did McCain invent the Blackberry for a Canadian company, he helped them steal patents from a US company, but did John have to pay any of the > $600 million that they settled for?

Posted by: Eli Rabett on September 16, 2008 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

McLiar was against Blackberry's before he was for them. Or was that before he was against them? Must be hard for McFeeble to keep track, what with his age wearing on him. Poor old man, I almost feel sorry for him.

Posted by: Conrad's Ghost on September 17, 2008 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Holtz-Eakin is just losing it with the pressure to maintain all the lies. He's an economic advisor, not a spokesliar, and maybe he had the illusion that he was signing on to a campaign with some integrity.

Posted by: Redshift on September 17, 2008 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK



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