A man and his BlackBerry

A MAN AND HIS BLACKBERRY…. It’s impossible to say whether the McCain campaign crediting John McCain with having created the BlackBerry will ever have the kind of impact the bogus Gore-invented-the-Internet story had. It seems exceedingly unlikely — the Gore nonsense is still the subject of jokes, and McCain’s media treatment is far more favorable than Gore’s.

The Republican campaign, not surprisingly, is doing its level best to dismiss the story, with an aide saying McCain “laughed” when he heard the comment. “He would not claim to be the inventor of anything, much less the BlackBerry. This was obviously a boneheaded joke by a staffer,” the aide said.

The truth is, I really doubt Douglas Holtz-Eakin was kidding; he’s just not the type to joke like this. It’s more likely that he was trying to make a point about McCain’s background in commerce, telecommunications, and technology. And if so, it offers us a chance to look a little closer at that record to see how McCain stacks up.

ThinkProgress … spoke with Blair Levin, who is currently Managing Director at Stifel Nicolaus and served as Hundt’s chief of staff at the FCC. Levin pointed out that McCain actually voted against the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA ’93) that “authorized the spectrum auctions that created the competitive wireless market that gave rise to companies like Research in Motion [the creator of BlackBerry].”

Indeed, McCain’s work on these issues was pretty awful: “When McCain took over his second tenure of Senate Commerce Committee, the United States ranked fourth in broadband penetration. In 2007, two years after he had given up that position, the United States had dropped to 15th in the world.”

McCain was also one of only five senators to vote against the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The Obama campaign, now solidly on message, told reporters, “If John McCain hadn’t said that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’ on the day of one of our nation’s worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week.”

But stepping back, Holtz-Eakin’s argument is, on its face, unusually absurd. He was responding to a question about the crisis on Wall Street, and McCain’s background as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Pressed to explain the relevance of McCain’s experience, Holtz-Eakin pointed to McCain having “created” the BlackBerry.

The underlying point, of course, is that McCain created the regulatory environment that made innovations like this possible. But that’s foolish — BlackBerry was developed in Canada, this has nothing to do with the collapse of investment banks and insurance companies, and McCain didn’t do anything to promote innovation anyway.

The whole pitch is ridiculous, on more levels than one.