Are Candidates Clueless on Technology and Military Issues?


Recent presidential debates of both parties included a ton of evidence that most candidates don’t have a rudimentary understanding of technology or military matters.

Note: The lone exception is Carly Fiorina. She obviously understands technology and does her homework on military issues. This knowledge doesn’t necessarily make her a good potential president. But at least, she knows what she’s talking about.

The rest are essentially clueless. During debates, there is so much going on—a torrent of energy and words—that we pay little attention to details of the candidates’ wording. They often don’t seem to care whether they make sense. Their mission is to win the day by force of personality, focus-group-tested phrases, and a self-confident image.

A few examples from the most recent debates:

Donald Trump remarked about the “nuclear triad,” demonstrating that he had no idea of what it is. We need not let him off the hook with the old excuse, “as president, he’ll have generals to explain these things.” Donald, you don’t need a general to explain it. It’s in Wikipedia.

Hillary Clinton’s recent statements about having an email server at home so she would only need one hand-held device was simply baffling. She later responded to a question about “wiping her server” asking with a serious face and hand gesture, whether that meant wiping it down with a cloth. Her apologists said she was only joking. Maybe. But if you were joking Hillary, stand-up isn’t your thing.

Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have faced off to prove who is a more vociferous critic of the NSA bulk metadata collection program. Each argued that his votes on various Senate amendments made him a better protector of the Constitution. Though it’s unclear who has bigger amendment chops, both demonstrated that they don’t understand the technology or how the NSA used it. Their phrasing still indicates their belief that the NSA has somehow been listening to the phone calls of private citizens and violating their privacy.

One of the candidates (sorry, can’t recall which one) remarked that China has technology “that can fly over the US and take out our electrical grid.” If such a scenario were to occur, we would all be dead within a few weeks. (Note: I’ll explain this problem and the gravity of such an attack in an upcoming post.) The candidate mentioned it in response to a question about North Korea. If North Korea, ISIS, or any other terrorist actor could implement that technology, it would be the greatest threat in American history. So far, Homeland Security has barely mentioned it as anything other than a long-term vulnerability.

Finally, there’s “The curious case of Dr. Benjamin Carson.” Dr. Carson is a good man. He’s probably the most intelligent candidate running in 2015-2016. Many of us, including me, would love to have him as a friend. If the debates were about any medical subject, he’d win every time. But he just doesn’t fit in this milieu. Every technology or military question forces him to repeat a memorized phrase or list, about which he has little comfort or familiarity.

All of these observations lead us to question how we arrived with potential leaders who do not understand some of the most challenging issues of the day. Are they of a generation that reached adulthood before the proliferation of personal technologies, and social media?

Perhaps we should halt the campaigns for a week or so, and call all of them into a three-day class to enrich their collective knowledge base. But that wouldn’t work. They’d spend the whole time arguing.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at



Author: Steve Vachss

Steve Vachss has enjoyed a career that permitted him to perform diverse roles. He has been a reporter, a broadcaster, an editor, a tech executive, a tech marketing consultant, and entrepreneur-founder of a company providing online business services. He’s also a US Army veteran. Through all of these experiences, his first love has always been writing. Prior to creating “The Victory that Wasn't,” he wrote literally hundreds of online articles, web pages, and “how-to” books, as well as guest editorials for print media. Born in Stamford, CT, he now lives in Dublin, CA, a San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

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