President Bill Clinton traversed five blocks to GW’s Marvin Center Monday night to participate in the first presidential online town-hall meeting.
Clinton said the town hall was a bold experimentation and compared his participation with other presidential firsts, including Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats and John F. Kennedy’s press conferences.
Clinton participated in the online town hall at GW, which was sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council and Excite@Home. Other Democratic politicians, including New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, participated in the chat from their own states on the Web. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape Communications, also was online.
DLC President Al From read Clinton questions from people viewing the event online. Internet users nationwide and from England and Canada participated in the town hall. Clinton and the other politicians’ answers were submitted online. The chat was broadcast with video and sound.
Clinton discussed topics including health care, crime, education, the budget and technology.
Fred Siegel, Excite@Home senior vice president for marketing, said his company co-sponsored the online chat to showcase how technology and the Internet are powerful forces in the world and to open up political discourse to more citizens.
Politics is becoming very hot on the Internet, Siegel said.
The chat was not free from technical glitches. It took more than 30 minutes for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales (D) to get connected to the chat.
It takes a few tries to get all our neighborhoods connected, Gonzales said after finally receiving a connection.
Clinton discussed a variety of topics during the chat:
– Clinton encouraged future politicians to maintain the AmeriCorps program. About 150,000 young people participate in the community service-oriented program, Clinton said.
AmeriCorps is changing America for the better, he said. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.
– Clinton said there are a variety of ways to ensure safety in schools. Two of his solutions for preventing school violence include a zero-tolerance policy for weapons and a system that identifies troubled children before something goes wrong. He said schools remain the safest place for children despite recent violence in schools across the country.
– Clinton defended the role of the federal government in education, saying that helping people afford college and assisting in the Head Start Program are appropriate goals for the federal government.
The federal government has been involved in education for over 30 years now, Clinton said.
Townsend said Maryland provides Hope Scholarships for students who want to pursue careers in technology and education.
Asked if he would plan on saving food to protect against possible problems caused by the year 2000 computer problem, Clinton said, No, I wouldn’t, because I think America is in good shape.
– Clinton was asked about his future – the legacy his presidency would have and his plans after he leaves the White House.
I’m very grateful for the chance I had to serve, he said.
Clinton said he hopes the legacy for his presidency will be a time of transformation and hope. As for his plans after his second term as president is over, Clinton said he wants to work on projects that do not get in the way of the next president.
I want to build my library and public policy center in Arkansas, Clinton said. And I want to be a useful citizen.
This article appeared in the November 11, 1999 issue of the Hatchet.