Silicon Valley has served as a huge source of cash for both presidential candidates -- but not as much of a source of ideas for their campaigns.

That means both men are missing the chance to use technology to paint an optimistic, big-picture vision of where they want to take the country. Roosevelt had the New Deal; Reagan had "morning in America." Obama and Romney have what, exactly?

"It really should be a part of the national discussion because it's so much a part of the national economy," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. "There are extraordinary opportunities ahead. I'm disappointed that there's not, out of either camp, the kind of discussion of technology issues that are so important to this country."

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shake hands after the presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.,
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shake hands after the presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., Oct. 22, 2012. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tech-related positions in their platforms. And I wouldn't expect either candidate to be spending time on the stump talking about patent reform or spectrum licensing, topics vital to Silicon Valley that put the rest of the country into a coma.

But what happened to the tech-savvy Obama of 2008 (remember his BlackBerry)? And while Romney's campaign is far more adept at technology than Sen. John McCain's, he also hasn't made technology issues a centerpiece.

"I can't help but be frustrated about the debates, in that these candidates haven't even mentioned the Internet," said Alexander Howard, who writes about government and technology for O'Reilly Media.


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After Obama swept into office, he initiated programs to use technology to make the federal government more transparent and to make it easier for citizens to participate in it. Howard gives the administration high marks for its progress in several areas: cloud computing, social media, opening government data, adopting open source technologies and focusing on IT security.

But the execution wasn't always smooth, deflating visions that tech would quickly make our government more efficient and more responsive.

In addition, both campaigns are targeting small groups of voters. And when you break people down along the narrowest of lines across the country, not many rank tech policy as their No. 1 issue.

"I don't know anyone who is going to make their voting decisions based solely on technology policy," Howard said.

But there are six major issues confronting this country where both candidates have the opportunity to talk about how technology could be part of the solution:

Education: There's widespread dissatisfaction over the state of schools. But tech startups and tech investors are pushing to rethink education. On top of that, many companies complain that schools aren't turning out enough graduates with science and technology backgrounds to fill jobs. That's a perfect opportunity for one of the candidates to seize a "Sputnik" moment and rally the country to find more resources for science and technology education.

Government: It turns out that changing the relationship between people and their government is harder than it looks. But both candidates should be trying to learn from what worked and what didn't under Obama to push ahead on this. Using technology to improve the connection between the governed and their government is one of our best chances to overcome the deep cynicism many citizens feel about politics.

Infrastructure: Strides were made with a national broadband plan, but the United States still remains behind many competitors. Experiments like the Google Fiber project in the Kansas City area, which is offering 1-gigabit connections at affordable prices, gives us a glimpse of the possibilities. There is a role for government policy to accelerate the deployment of superfast broadband.

Immigration: It remains a hot-button issue. But there should be agreement on making it easier for foreign-born students and entrepreneurs to stay in this country and put their innovative ideas to work here creating jobs. Indeed, one study noted that half of all Silicon Valley startups have at least one foreign-born founder.

Energy: Yes, the bankruptcy of Solyndra has made this a politically sensitive subject. But with gas prices soaring this year, it's clear we need to reduce our dependence on oil imports and chart a path to energy independence.

Jobs: While much of the country's job market remains uneven, Silicon Valley's tech sector has been creating new jobs at a nice clip. With jobs topic No. 1 on the campaign trail, why isn't either candidate talking up what works here and applying it to the rest of the country?=

Of course, neither candidate is likely to make big, last-minute changes in their campaign strategy and start talking about this. But perhaps on Nov. 7, when the polls are closed and a winner anointed, our president-elect will take a second look at technology, and we can finally have a real conversation about the role it can play in the future of this country.

Contact Chris O'Brien at 415-298-0207 or cobrien@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/obrien and read his blog posts at www.siliconbeat.com.