CARLSBAD, Calif. — After opening their conference with a moment of silence to recognize American troops, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher turned to politics and grilled presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain about his support for the war in Iraq.
Sorting out the Iraq mess and finding consensus on how to proceed seem more difficult than any of the technological challenges that will be covered during the rest of the conference.
Almost as sticky was the question of what the government should do to help the United States improve broadband service and catch up to the level of service in other developed countries.
On broadband, McCain argued for less regulation and government oversight. He didn’t seem to agree with the suggestion, by Mossberg and Swisher, that telecom industry consolidation might be a factor.
Is there a role for government when there’s too much concentration of power? Mossberg asked.
“I think the trend is in that direction but you known and most everyone in the room knows that when government gets involved there’s intended consequences and unintended consequences.”
They didn’t let him off that easy. Swisher asked if broadband should be considered along the lines of the federal highway system.
Pressed further, McCain said:
“I understand that when you control the pipe you should be able to get profit on your investment, etc. At the same time I do worry about the concentration of it.”
Regarding the war, all three agreed that mistakes were made, but the journalists questioned McCain on his opposition to withdrawal.
Noting that it turned out Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction or a role in the 9/11 attack, Mossberg asked, “Why on earth do you support staying in there instead of saying this was a tremendous mistake … let’s end it?”
McCain argued that pulling out would further destabilize the region and draw neighboring countries into a bigger conflict, saying, “We will lose more if we leave the country.”
“Other nations will be drawn into the conflict,” McCain said. “We still are dependent on our energy supplies from that part of the world.”
Both perspectives drew applause now and then from an audience that included the heads of numerous major tech and media companies.
Afterward I asked a few about their impression and several said they were impressed with McCain, whether or not they agreed with him politically. One noted that Al Gore was just as sharp when he spoke during a previous D conference.
A few of McCain’s zinger lines made YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen chuckle (I was sitting behind them). That’s got to be worth something.
Here’s a clip of McCain’s presentation provided by D.