But talk is cheap, and votes are what matter. To rate who's best and who's worst on technology topics before the November 4 election, CNET News has compiled the accompanying voter's guide, grading how representatives in the U.S. Congress have voted over the last decade.
We scored 17 votes in the U.S. Senate and 18 in the House of Representatives, covering everything from Internet taxes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, online censorship, and the Real ID Act. Also included are a flurry of recent votes on retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that illegally opened their networks to the government.
Unfortunately, neither Obama nor McCain received a passing grade. Obama was in office for six votes, skipped half of them, and received an overall score of 33 percent. McCain was in office for all of the votes, skipped four of them, and received an overall score of 38.5 percent.
McCain was not aided by his support for the Communications Decency Act and Internet gambling restrictions, as well as his vote against making a ban on Net taxes permanent. He did support free trade, higher H-1B limits, and a temporary extension of a ban on Internet taxes.
His pick for vice president, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, scored 50 percent.
The highest-scoring senator was Washington state's Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, with 81.8 percent. This should be no surprise: her state is home to plenty of technology companies, and the senator herself is a former RealNetworks executive.
Cantwell was also the highest-scoring Senate Democrat in our 2006 scorecard. (Virginia Republican George Allen bested her two years ago, but he lost his re-election bid.)
"Washington state is home to some of the best technology companies and brightest minds in the country, and we're often ahead of the curve, recognizing what will be the technology of the future," Cantwell told CNET News. "I am proud to represent Washingtonians and proud to support policies that will help our country maintain its position in the world."
Many high scorers came from Silicon Valley, the birthplace of a laissez-faire attitude toward Internet taxation and regulation, which boosted their scores.
A less obvious winner was Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the former Republican presidential candidate who attracted an enthusiastic online following because of his opposition to the Iraq war, as well as his views on civil liberties and taxation.
Paul sits on no relevant committees. He represents a rural district along the Gulf Coast that's home to few Web 2.0 start-ups but to plenty of cattle ranchers and petrochemical companies. But he's had a long interest in privacy and Internet regulation; his official Web site lists his speeches on financial privacy, national ID cards, Social Security number misuse, and medical privacy spanning more than a decade.
The obstetrician-turned-presidential-contender also topped our 2006 House scorecard. "I believe strongly in protecting the Internet," Paul told us at the time. "My colleagues aren't quite as interested in the subject. That, to me, is disappointing."
To create our 2008 CNET News scorecard, we selected representative votes in the House and the Senate. Then we used a computer program to download, sort, and tabulate approximately 10,000 individual "yeas" or "nays."
To be sure, no political scorecard can satisfy everyone, and all scorecards require making difficult choices. In addition, we're limited to the floor votes that actually took place; we would have liked to have more votes on taxes and trade in the last few years.
When compiling our votes, we paid close attention to votes on Internet taxes, free trade, and curbing class action lawsuits, all of which trade associations have long viewed as key factors when evaluating a politician's record.
Overall, we rewarded politicians who viewed Web sites and computer software as deserving no more regulation than, say, books and magazines--an approach that handed poorer scores to anyone clamoring for new laws. That principle led us to take a dim view of a call for a federal probe of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Similarly, we gave poor grades to politicians who supported laws that were either duplicative or not effective. Those included the Deleting Online Predators Act--which would restrict Amazon.com, Slashdot, and other sites with user profiles from computers at many U.S. schools and libraries--and a supposedly antispyware bill that was highly regulatory and opposed by companies including Google and Yahoo.
We excluded the hot-button issue of Net neutrality, which has gone only to a recorded floor vote in the House of Representatives so far, because that legislation has generated sufficient division among high-tech companies, users, and technologies. Because the most disturbing section was deleted from a new copyright law called the Pro-IP Act, we excluded that as well.
Unfortunately, Congress' tendency to shy away from recorded votes means that some important events were not available to score. Bills such as the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, a Web content-labeling measure, and a high-performance computing measure were approved by voice vote without a record of individual politicians' choices.
We chose not to rank members of Congress who were only in office for two votes. That doesn't offer enough of a window into their long-term voting history. So Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., the widow of Sen. Paul Tsongas who was elected in a special election in October 2007, got a "no score" instead of a 0 percent.
The worst scorer in the Senate is Roger Wicker, R-Miss., with 0 percent score. He was appointed to fill a vacancy in December 2007, and voted in a pro-surveillance direction the three votes for which he was in office. He did not return our phone calls.
And the worst scorer who was in office for more than a year? That would be Rep. Henry Brown, a Republican who was elected in 2000 and was in office for 16 of the votes we scored. A former executive at the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, Brown represents the area near Charleston, S.C., and is a member of no technology-related House committees.
Aiding his poor score of 21.4 percent was his support for Internet gambling prohibitions, his vote for the Real ID Act, when it was a standalone bill, and his choice to ban certain types of computer-generated pornography. He did support lower taxes and an R&D tax credit.
"Congressman Brown is proud to have a robust technology industry in his district," a Brown representative told us this week. "The 1st District is home to a number of cutting-edge technology companies, including Blackbaud, Google, SAIC, and many more that are not only developing innovative products, but are also providing cutting-edge solutions to our war fighters through partnerships with the Department of Defense."
Brown criticized our choice to grade votes negatively that he said would "prevent trial lawyers from setting the rules for our intelligence community." His representative added: "Congressman Brown has always put issues important to families and our national security first. He is proud of his support for legislation that prevents the spread of pornography and predators that go after our children through the Internet."
Editors: Jim Kerstetter, Zoë Slocum
Copy editor: Michelle Meyers
Design: Ellen Ng
Production: Kenny Ash, Lisa Casani, Andy Lottmann