Obama's answer was a classic example of this. If he's talking about the invention of the computer, then you'd be hard-pressed to name any government scientists, at least in the U.S., who were involved in the process. The ENIAC team was a group of academics at Penn; the Mark I was a similar group at Harvard. The same could be said of Alan Turing in England and Conrad Zuse in Germany. Most of them took government money, for sure, but the impetus for that support was World War II – and I doubt either candidate is willing to commit to go to war just to drive technological innovation.
On the other hand, you can make the case the Internet was started by a quasi-government agency, ARPA (later DARPA), as a way for the DoD and contractors (especially universities) to quickly and safely communicate. But it was the World Wide Web, developed by folks at CERN, and released to the general public in 1993, that set off the Internet revolution.
As it happens, I'm old enough and happened to be in the right place as a teenager to have used both government-designed mainframe computers and DARPANET … and trust me, if these two technologies had been left in the hands of government scientists, we would all still be using electric typewriters, rotary phones and doing our research down at the local library. I'll even go so far as to suggest that Silicon Valley was really born when HP stopped accepting specialized government contracts and chip companies like Intel took off in pursuit of the consumer and commercial markets.
Government is best at large-scale basic research – especially when it funds it from private enterprise – and, sometimes, at kick-starting a new commercial industry. But after that, it is usually just an impediment at best and a crusher of innovation at worst. Thus, to use the example of the computer, or even the Internet, as a justification for greater government interference in the marketplace is not only wrong, but dangerous as well.
Meanwhile, once again we have two Presidential candidates (the only exception I can think of in the last 40 years was Al Gore) who don't seem to have a clue about any of this. Given that one of them is going to be establishing this country's economic priorities for the next four years, shouldn't they learn – and quickly?
So, I'll make this offer to both campaigns: Give me (or anybody else who writes about tech) just 30 minutes with your candidate, any time and anywhere, and I'll make sure, for the good of the country, that they never make this kind of mistake again.
TAD'S TAB: Continuing last week's visual theme, consider the art of Larry Roibal. Every few days, he posts portrait drawings on the Web. What's interesting about them is that each drawing is done on a newspaper clipping about the subject of the portrait. His choices are diverse and interesting – and always timely. Check them out at (http://www.roibal.net/blog/)
This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.