The GOP Wants To Be Like Your iPhone, According To Sen. Lamar Alexander (Say What?)
Oh, Republicans. We turn our back on your for one second and you're popping back in the limelight for saying something dumb about technology. Seriously, somebody get these guys a better tech consultant. Surely there's a Republican at Google? Anyone? This week's winner of the GOP's Most Internet-Illiterate Award goes to Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who floated the concept of an iPhone-like government in a recent speech.
Lucky you, America: The GOP presents these speeches every week, and Alexander won the honor to give the most recent Saturday address. Republicans know these things are scripted, right? You can just go right into Microsoft Word and make changes before pressing print.
In the speech, the senator suggested that if consumers could pick and choose what sorts of things they want the government to do for them and download only those "apps," then hypothetically everyone would be happier. And on some level that sounds great. Everyone knows the government could improve when it comes to technology (insert allusion to bureaucratic Healthcare.gov disaster here). But of course, Alexander wasn't really talking about building a more tech-savvy government. He was talking about building a government where you don't need to have a bunch of expensive agencies, because nobody wants to pay for them.
We'd skip pricey Medicare and Medicaid, for starters. (Note to GOP strategists reading this: Not a viable popular option.) Stripping down the government's role has worked out really well with privately contracted prisons, so let's do it for everything!
Beyond the problems with putting the private sector in charge of public functions, the metaphor falls apart when you consider how the iPhone was really designed. Apple didn't outsource all its most essential functions; in fact, it's obsessed with perfecting them. We're pretty sure that's an ethos both Republicans and Democrats could get behind, except of course when it's politically inconvenient.
In a government where everyone could just choose what agencies they wanted to use (or, in Alexander's parlance, what apps they want to download), it bears mentioning there are some apps most people would always choose to leave behind. Imagine, for example, if downloading "Taxes" were optional — don't everyone rush to the App Store to get it at once! (In the spirit of bipartisanship, we note both Reagan and Obama indicated support for simpler consumer tax filing, though companies with a vested interest in keeping taxes scary, like TurboTax, have lobbied vigorously against it.)
Alexander's speech cited a quote from Tim O'Reilly, an advocate for free and open source software. O'Reilly has said the iPhone's success hinged on its App Store, which allowed developers to design their own apps for the phone and meant Apple was only responsible for maintaining and developing those key apps users would need for the phone's primary functions. (Others would probably add that the iPhone's design and user interface were key components in its success.)
It's interesting that the GOP would seize on O'Reilly's comments when Open Source advocates, for example, have fought for more government funding to secure software like Open SSL, which is supposed to secure consumers' private information online but was recently found to have a dangerous flaw called Heartbleed. Open SSL, which has received federal funding, currently has one full-time employee.
Anyway, back to Alexander, who's really into this whole iPhone idea.
In classic Republican form, mentioning the FDA, the IRS, and the Labor Department as starting points is a giveaway that this is a speech directed mostly at corporations and the wealthy, not average consumers. But advertising the GOP as the Blackberry Party probably sounded a lot less sexy.